Afghan government troops started a major offensive Tuesday after the northern city of Kunduz was seized by Taliban militants in a surprise multi-pronged attack Monday, officials said.
On Monday, insurgents seized several key areas in the city, including the governor's compound and a hospital, as this Reuters infographic shows. The militant group's white flag was also hoisted above several prominent buildings, the BBC reported.
The seizure of the city made Kunduz the first major urban area to fall to the Afghan Taliban since the 2001 U.S.-led invasion of the country.
Taliban militants also freed hundreds of prisoners from the city's main jail, the BBC reported.
On Tuesday, Taliban fighters were witnessed roaming the streets of the city, blaring out music, according to NBC News.
They also appear to have been photographed riding in vehicles belonging to international NGOs.
The fall of Kunduz comes as President Ashraf Ghani completed a year in office. During a televised address on Tuesday, he vowed that the government would retake the city, saying that Afghanistan would not succumb to "fear and terror."
Ghani said that Afghan troops had been "retaking government buildings," adding that "reinforcements, including special forces and commandos, are either there or on their way there," AP reported.
He said that the Taliban had "sustained heavy casualties." He later tweeted that they had been using the people of Kunduz "as a shield."
The Taliban's new leader, Mullah Akhtar Mansour, said in a statement that the Afghan government should admit defeat, and insisted that the citizens of Kunduz "should not be worried about their lives and property," according to the BBC.
Afghan interior ministry spokesman Sediq Sediqqi confirmed that "a big military operation to clear all Kunduz city is about to start" early Tuesday, CNN reported.
U.S. forces had assisted in the operation by launching an air strike in the city, U.S. military spokesman Brian Tribus said.
Speaking to The Diplomat, an anonymous Afghan government worker identified as Ehsan described the situation in Kunduz Tuesday:
"The situation is very serious. Everyone who can be considered allied to the government, be it international NGO workers, government servants, army personnel, and police are trapped inside the city. The whole population is trapped. The Taliban is busy looting the government buildings, but so far they have not harmed the local people. They are mixing with local people and trying to take them into confidence. The insurgents are hiding in people's houses."
Kunduz is a strategically important transport hub in Afghanistan's north, and is seen as a gateway to the other northern provinces in the country, the BBC said.
It is a key area for the market in illegal drugs, with opium and heroin smuggled across the porous border with Tajikistan to the north. Any group with control in the area is likely to be able to hold significant power over the drug trade.
Security in Kunduz was provided by the German military until 2013, when they transferred to local forces. However, prior to the 2001 conflict, it was a Taliban stronghold, and therefore still has symbolic significance for the militant group.