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U.S. launches airstrikes as Afghan forces take Kunduz back from Taliban

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Afghan security forces gather at the roadside a day after Taliban insurgents overran the strategic northern city of Kunduz, on September 29, 2015. (Photo STR/AFP/Getty Images)

KABUL, Afghanistan  — Afghan security forces started retaking parts of Kunduz from the Taliban, officials said, one day after the key city had largely fallen in a major victory for the insurgents.

“A big military operation to clear all Kunduz city is about to start,” Interior Ministry spokesman Sediq Sediqqi said Tuesday.

U.S. forces joined in the military action, launching an airstrike in Kunduz on Tuesday, said Brian Tribus, spokesman for U.S. forces in Afghanistan.

The Kunduz prison, a police compound and the neighborhood of Zir Dawra are among the areas Afghan forces have secured, Sediqqi said.

A day earlier, Sediqqi said Kunduz had largely fallen into “the hand of enemies.” Kunduz is the largest city to be overrun by the Taliban since 2001.

Sayed Sarwar Hussaini, a spokesman for the Kunduz police chief, said Taliban insurgents seized the main roundabout in the city and made it to the prison, where they freed more than 500 inmates.

The Taliban also claimed to have seized a 200-bed hospital — posting photos to social media that they claimed proved their control of the facility.

A big prize

The Taliban has bolstered its strength north of Kunduz for months and has had its eyes on the city.

Kunduz is the capital of Kunduz province, an affluent area known for its trade ties. The main route to Tajikistan also runs through Kunduz province.

And the release of 500 prisoners by the Taliban makes the security situation in Kunduz even more challenging.

One of the newly released prisoners spoke to CNN.

“We were hearing gunshots throughout the day, but it was 4:00 p.m. when the Kunduz prison guards left the compound. Then, the inmates broke all the doors and fences and started running towards the main gate,” he said.

“As soon as we opened the main gate, we saw a group of armed Taliban outside the gate. They told us that we were free and could go home. … We all headed towards our homes.”