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U.S. Forces Conduct Airstrikes Near Taliban-Held Kunduz Airport

The United States has carried out three airstrikes on the outskirts of Kunduz in Afghanistan.

Col. Brian Tribus, a spokesman for the military, said members of the coalition encountered insurgents and that's when the U.S. ordered airstrikes through the day Tuesday and into the early morning Wednesday.

Tribus stressed that coalition forces are in the country in a noncombat role, but "our service members have the right to protect themselves if necessary."

As The New York Times reports, the strikes come as the Taliban have made significant gains in the country. The paper reports:

"Over the past three days, the Taliban have achieved what appears to be their largest military victory in a war that has gone on for more than a decade. Not only have insurgent forces captured a city of about 300,000 people — the first urban center the Taliban has held since 2001 — but as the reeling Afghan government struggles to respond, it has become clear that not only Kunduz but a large chunk of Afghanistan's north is at stake.

"In Baghlan Province south of Kunduz, Afghan reinforcements on their way to the city have been delayed or stopped altogether amid Taliban ambushes along the main highway. It appeared on Wednesday that before the Afghan government could launch a significant counteroffensive in Kunduz, it would first need to reclaim some of Baghlan."

Reuters reports that the clash between coalition troops and insurgents is the first report of "on-the-ground clashes between Taliban militants and foreign troops supporting their Afghan allies."

Reuters adds: "NATO had more than 100,000 troops in Afghanistan at its peak, but most had withdrawn by the end of 2014 and the far smaller mission now is designed to "train, assist and advise" local forces."

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Eyder Peralta is NPR's East Africa correspondent based in Nairobi, Kenya.