Intense fighting is raging in northeastern Afghanistan where officials say a counteroffensive is underway to retake control of a remote district Taliban insurgents captured the Saturday.
The United Nations Sunday warned the Afghan conflict is resulting in thousands of people being killed or wounded, and forcing families to leave their homes and seek refuge in neighboring communities.
Clashes in the central district of Yamgan in Badakhshan province erupted at dawn Saturday when hundreds of heavily armed insurgents assaulted and laid siege to the mountainous area.
Afghan national security forces engaged the assailants for several hours before they “tactically retreated to prevent civilian casualties”, according to top provincial authorities.
“The ground forces and air forces have launched a military operation in Yamgan to retake control of the district,” Afghan media quoted provincial police spokesman, Lal Mohammad Ahmadzai as saying Sunday. He added that reinforcements from the provincial capital have also arrived.
A spokesman for the Afghan Defense Ministry, Dawlat Waziri, tells VOA that national troops are close to ousting the Taliban from Yamgan. Waziri says forces have been dispatched to the area and have inflicted heavy casualties on Taliban fighters, who he says will soon be eliminated from Yamgan.
Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid said the group's fighters killed at least 18 members of the Afghan security force before seizing control of the district, though the insurgent group’s claims are often inflated.
Officials in the central Uruzgan province also confirmed to VOA on Sunday that Taliban fighters captured 10 police outposts in Gizab district and warned of more insurgent advances unless urgent military support arrives. Fighting has also been raging in several other districts of the province.
More aggressive summer offensive
The Taliban intensifies its attacks in Afghanistan each summer, but its so-called summer offensive has been more aggressive this year and has spilled over into previously peaceful areas.
The militants have made significant advances and have carried out high-profile suicide and other attacks against Afghan security forces, including several in the national capital, Kabul.
This summer Afghanistan’s police and troops are battling the Islamist insurgency on their own for the first time in the 13-year long conflict because most foreign forces withdrew at the end of last year. A small residual NATO-led force remains for only advising and training the Afghan defense forces.
The deputy head of the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan, Mark Bowden, speaking at a conference in Kabul Sunday noted that the number of wounded at the Emergency Hospital in the capital illustrates the devastating impact of the conflict.
“The doctors there told me that they are seeing a 50 percent increase in the number of civilians injured this year compared to the same period last year,” he said.
According to UNAMA figures released last month,1989 Afghan were injured as a result of the conflict and 978 killed, throughout the country as of April 30.
A recent New York Times article quoting Western military officials, reported that Afghan police and military together have lost more than 1,800 personnel, while 3,400 have been wounded in this year’s insurgency-related activities.