Taliban withdraw from northern Afghan city

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — The Taliban said Tuesday they are withdrawing from Kunduz, a strategic northern city that briefly fell to the insurgents last month, as an Afghan official said life there is returning to normal.

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said in an email to media that the group's fighters are retreating to avoid further civilian casualties.

Hamdullah Danishi, the acting governor of Kunduz province, said shops and markets in the city had reopened and residents were venturing out of their homes. He said troops were continuing search and clear operations, suspecting that some insurgents remain in the city.

"Afghan security forces are in control of the whole city," said Gen. Mohammad Qasim Jungulbagh, provincial police chief of Kunduz.

Taliban insurgents were present at the outskirts of the city, and were mostly holed up in Chahar Dara district, a longtime stronghold nearby. Jungulbagh said troops would soon begin clearing the insurgents from the districts around Kunduz city.

After two weeks of fighting, local people are venturing out and shops are open again, said Sultan Mohammad, 32, a Kunduz resident. He said electricity was being restored but problems in the water supply remained.

The Taliban stormed Kunduz on Sept. 28 and held the city for three days before being driven back. Exact numbers of dead and wounded are unclear, but believed to be in the hundreds.

The Public Health Ministry has said that more than 60 civilians have been killed, and around 800 wounded in the fighting.

The Afghan Journalists' Union said Tuesday that a Taliban threat against the staff and property of two major television stations could lead to a media-wide boycott of the insurgents.

The union was reacting to threats issued on Monday against Tolo and 1TV stations for their coverage of Taliban atrocities in Kunduz. The group said in a statement the stations had been designated as targets and no staff were safe.

AJU member Fahim Dashti, reading a statement on live television, said any action by the insurgents against the stations would be regarded as a "war crime."

"If the Taliban's threats continue or journalists are harmed, then Afghan media will boycott news coverage regarding the Taliban," he said.