KUNDUZ, Afghanistan, Sept. 29 (UPI) -- The Afghan military on Tuesday began fighting to regain the strategic northern city of Kunduz one day after it was captured by Taliban forces.
The BBC quoted Afghan President Ashraf Ghani as saying security forces had seized several buildings, and police as saying up to 80 militants had been killed, though the figure was not independently verified.
The Taliban launched their attack early Monday, descending from several directions before security personnel fled. Kunduz, a Taliban stronghold before the group's fall from power in 2001, is the capital of the wider Kunduz province, which supplies half of the country's rice and holds major roads connecting central and northern Afghanistan.
U.S. military officials confirmed launching at least one airstrike in support of the operation and Tuesday expressed optimism of an Afghan military victory, but Pentagon Press Secretary Peter Cook acknowledged the loss of Kunduz was a "setback."
The New York Times reported government forces rallied at an airport outside Kunduz came under attack by advancing militants. Seven en route convoys were also delayed in ambushes and roadside bombings.
Ghani reportedly assured the Afghan public the attack would succeed, blaming the limited progress on Taliban fighters using civilians as human shields.
"The government of Afghanistan is an accountable government and cannot bombard inside the cities, and it will not," the Times quoted Ghani as saying.
Meanwhile, Medecins Sans Frontieres, or Doctors Without Borders, told reporters the main trauma center in the city was overwhelmed with gunshot victims over the past two days. The organization told the Times on Tuesday it had received 171 injured, including 46 children.
The BBC quoted the Afghan Health Ministry as saying it received up to 200 injured, as well as 16 bodies.
Militant attacks in Afghanistan have been on the rise since NATO forces officially handed the combat mission to Afghan forces last year.
The Taliban has fought back-and forth battles with government troops and police across the country throughout the summer as part of the traditional spring and summer fighting seasons, but U.S. and Afghan officials in June estimated casualties among Afghan security personnel during the first 15 weeks of 2015 were 70 percent higher than in the same period last year, with about 330 being killed weekly.
The counterattack in Kunduz comes two days after hundreds of Islamic State militants were for the first time reported to have attacked security personnel in Afghanistan, assaulting police checkpoints in the Nangarhar province.