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Afghan Taliban take district in spring offensive

Updated May 07, 2017

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KUNDUZ: Taliban militants captured a district just outside the northern Afghan city of Kunduz on Saturday, officials said, pointing to renewed pick up in fighting after the insurgents announced their annual spring offensive last week.

Mahfouz Akbari, a police spokesman for eastern Afghanistan, said security forces had pulled out of Qala-i-Zal district, west of Kunduz city, on Saturday to avoid further civilian and military casualties after more than 24 hours of heavy fighting.

In a statement, Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said the insurgents had taken police headquarters, the governor’s compound and all security checkpoints. He said several police and soldiers had been killed and wounded.

Over the past 18 months, Taliban insurgents have twice succeeded in seizing the town centre of Kunduz for brief periods and the latest fighting underscores warnings that Afghan forces face another gruelling year of fighting.

A shopkeeper, whose name is also Zabihullah, said the situation was now reminiscent of the position in October last year when Taliban forces entered the city before being driven back after days of fighting and air strikes.

According to US estimates, government fighters control only around 60 per cent of the country, with the rest either controlled or contested by the insurgents, who are seeking to reimpose Islamic law after their 2001 ouster.

Although the Taliban made a formal announcement of their spring offensive only last week, there has already been heavy fighting from the northern province of Badakhshan to the Taliban heartlands of Helmand and Kandahar in the south.

There have also been several operations against IS militants in the eastern province of Nangarhar, which have also involved US special forces and air strikes.

Published in Dawn, May 7th, 2017