Taliban leader says Afghan insurgency strong

Taliban leader says Afghan insurgency strong
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The new leader of the Afghan Taliban said on Friday that the capture of the northern Afghan city of Kunduz was a \"symbolic victory\" that showed the strength of the insurgency - even though the Taliban pulled out of the city after three days.

The new leader of the Afghan Taliban said on Friday that the capture of the northern Afghan city of Kunduz was a "symbolic victory" that showed the strength of the insurgency - even though the Taliban pulled out of the city after three days.


Still, the three-day occupation of Kunduz was also "a historic event," which was "celebrated by the ordinary people of the city," said Mullah Akhtar Mansoor.

Mansoor, who spoke to The Associated Press by telephone from an unknown location, was appointed the Taliban leader in August, after revelations that the group's founder, Mullah Muhammad Omar, had died more than two years ago.

The Taliban captured Kunduz in a blitz Monday and held it until Afghan government forces pushed them out of the city on Thursday.

The fall and three-day occupation of Kunduz - an important city of 300,000 residents that lies on a strategic road to the border with Tajikistan - was a huge boost for Mansoor whose leadership of the Taliban had been questioned from the start.

At the same time, it was a humbling defeat for Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and raised questions over whether the US-trained military was capable of defending the country now that most coalition forces have withdrawn.

"The victory is a symbolic victory for us, and moreover, it is also a historical event which will be remembered," Mansoor said.

"People who said we were a small force with an unchosen leader can now see how wrong they were about the potential and strength my people have," he added.

The Taliban have been fighting to overthrow the Kabul government since their 1996-2001 regime was overthrown in a US-led invasion. The capture of Kunduz was the first time they have taken a provincial capital since then.

Ghani has launched an investigation into how the Taliban, with only a few hundred gunmen, could have overwhelmed the city, which was defended by a few thousand government troops.

In Kunduz, residents said sporadic firefights continued Friday as troops swept the city street-to-street to dislodge any militants still hiding in people's homes.

Mansoor said the success of the movement in taking the city in a surprise attack had also allegedly countered Afghan government propaganda, "which said that the people of Afghanistan are against the Taliban and want to rid them from their country."
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