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Afghan official says Kunduz residents venture out as city calms, some clashes on outskirts


KABUL, Afghanistan — Residents of the northern Afghan city of Kunduz began venturing out of their homes as calm returned to the streets on Monday, officials and residents said, in the first signs of normalcy following the deadly Taliban blitz last week that captured and held Kunduz for three days.

But clashes were still underway between government forces and the Taliban on the city's outskirts on Monday, according to Khosh Mohammad, a member of the Kunduz provincial council.

Meanwhile, the medical charity Doctors Without Borders continued to press U.S. and Afghan officials for an independent investigation into the bombing early Saturday of its hospital in Kunduz, in which at least 22 people were killed. Some top U.S. officials said the circumstances surrounding the incident remain murky, but others indicated the U.S. may have been responsible.

U.S. officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the incident publicly, said American special operations forces advising Afghan commandos in the vicinity of the hospital requested the air support when they came under fire in Kunduz. The officials said the AC-130 gunship responded and fired on the area, but U.S. Secretary of Defense Ash Carter said it's not certain yet whether that was what destroyed the hospital.

Christopher Stokes, the general director of MSF, the charity's French acronym, said on Monday he was "disgusted by the recent statements coming from some Afghanistan government authorities justifying the attack."

"These statements imply that Afghan and U.S. forces working together decided to raze to the ground a fully functioning hospital," Stokes was quoted as saying in the statement.

The Afghan and U.S. governments have pledged a full investigation, which could take some days. President Barack Obama said he expected a full accounting of the circumstances surrounding the bombing, and that he would wait for those results before making a judgment.

The former governor of Kunduz province, Mohammad Omer Safi — who was sacked after the city fell while he was on vacation abroad — said he had warned the government that the city was vulnerable to Taliban attack.

He said Taliban militants had been in control of 60 percent of the province for at least three months and were just two to three kilometers (1.2 to 1.8 miles) outside the city.

"I made the central authorities aware of it," he told The Associated Press. He said he wrote numerous proposals for securing the city against a Taliban onslaught, for the National Security Council and the Independent Directorate of Local Governance, a powerful body in charge of appointing provincial governors and supporting governance at local and provincial levels.

Safi was sacked on September 30, two days after the Taliban overran the city with a surprise attack from multiple fronts, and three days after he left for Turkey on a four-day break approved by the president, he said.

Kunduz is an important city on the Tajikistan border, a hub for smuggling routes for drugs and guns to and from Central Asian countries, and alcohol into Afghanistan, officials have said.

The multi-pronged Taliban assault on Kunduz took the Afghan authorities by surprise and hugely embarrassed President Ashraf Ghani's administration. The Taliban held the city for three days before largely melting away as the government counter-offensive began on Thursday.

Safi, who has a degree in security and risk management from a British university, said that since last December the city had successfully repelled three Taliban attacks, including a major attempt to overrun the city in April.

"I sent a letter a month ago suggesting there was a risk to Kunduz city, to the IDLG explaining that we need a strong security belt for the city. I designed the security belt and requested 15 security bases," he said. "The total cost for this was 18 million afghanis, which is around $250,000. I sent numerous emails, follow-up calls. But the government could not find this money to make this belt."

The IDLG and the president's office did not immediately respond to a request for comment. One IDLG official confirmed, however, that Safi's reports had been received. Speaking on condition that he not be identified as he was not authorized to speak to media, the official said a security plan was now being formulated for Kunduz "based on Safi's proposals."

In the center of Kunduz, shops opened and people were seen walking the streets Monday and government troops have largely cleared the militants from the city, said Sarwar Hussaini, spokesman for the provincial police chief.

But the Taliban left destruction in their wake. Qayum Khan, a resident reached by telephone, described corpses on the streets but could not tell if they were civilians or insurgents. Grocer Sardar Wali said he felt it was "normal ... so I have opened my shop."

Elsewhere, a Taliban attack on the far western city of Maymana, capital of Faryab province bordering Turkmenistan, was repelled by Afghan forces on Monday. The province's deputy governor, Abdul Satar Barez, said the city came under the attack from four directions on Sunday night.

"It was a similar attack to that in Kunduz and the aim of the enemy was to overrun the city," he said.

Associated Press writers Humayoon Babur and Rahm Faiez in Kabul, Afghanistan, and Lolita C. Baldor in Madrid contributed to this report.

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