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Afghan Forces Battle Insurgents Around Kunduz

An Afghan National Army soldier, left, shouts against the Taliban, after firing a rocket toward Taliban positions, on the outskirts of Kunduz, northern Afghanistan, April 16, 2016.

Afghan officials and insurgent sources said intense fighting is raging near the northern city of Kunduz.

An Interior Ministry statement issued Sunday said Afghan forces killed at least 44 Taliban insurgents and wounded many more in overnight clashes around the provincial capital.

The fighting erupted Friday after the Taliban staged a major offensive on security outposts around Kunduz in its bid to capture the city.

Both sides have since claimed inflicting heavy casualties on the other, but it is difficult to ascertain official and insurgent claims because of the volatile situation in Kunduz and surrounding northern Afghan provinces.

A Taliban spokesman accused Afghan and U.S.-led foreign forces of conducting extensive aerial bombing in and around Kunduz.

He denied official claims of government forces killing dozens of insurgents in such an attack.

"These indiscriminate bombings have only targeted civilian areas," according to the Taliban spokesman.

The Taliban had briefly overrun the strategically important city in September.

Residents said insurgents have since established hideouts and influence in the surrounding districts, helping them stage the latest offensive against Kunduz.

At a gathering in Kabul Sunday, civil society groups expressed concerns Kunduz is likely to fall to the Taliban again unless the Afghan government clears joining areas of insurgents.

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