Authorities in Afghanistan say that security forces on Friday repulsed a major Taliban assault on the northern city of Kunduz, killing dozens of insurgents.
A regional police commander, General Sher Aziz Kamwal, told VOA that fighting erupted early in the morning when Taliban insurgents attacked security outposts around the strategically important city.
He said Afghan forces killed 40 insurgents and wounded many more. The general added the fighting left two security personnel dead and wounded nine others.
A Taliban spokesman, however, claimed that its fighters staged attacks in all districts of the Kunduz province, inflicting heavy casualties on Afghan security forces and overrunning around a dozen security outposts in Imam Sahib and Qala-e-Zal districts.
Independent confirmation of official and insurgent claims were not available immediately.
Hostilities have picked up across Afghanistan since Tuesday when the Taliban launched its annual spring offensive, called Operation Omari, named after the late founder and first leader of the Islamist insurgency, Mullah Omar.
The Taliban had briefly overrun the city of Kunduz last September, taking advantage of the withdrawal of NATO combat forces in 2014.
Afghan causualties, wounded
U.S. military commanders say that Afghan security forces lost around 5,500 personnel while another 14,000 were wounded in the 2015 fighting season because, for the first time, they were fighting the insurgency on their own.
A U.S. army spokesman, Brigadier General Charles Cleveland, said that Afghan security forces are expected to perform better in 2016 because they have gotten more capability than they had this time last year.
Afghans now have a total of eight A-29 aircraft to provide closer air support and are beginning to make their first strikes and they have also been using MD-530 helicopters to provide fire support, Cleveland told Pentagon reporters Thursday via a video link from Afghanistan.
“So, I know that's a long way of telling you 5,500 casualties is incredibly difficult and incredibly difficult for any military to sustain. We do think, though, that we will see some improvement in their overall performance based on what I described to you previously,” Cleveland said.
Fighting usually subsides in Afghanistan in winter when snow-covered high altitude passes prevent insurgents from moving in large numbers with heavy weapons.
However, fighting continued through 2015 for the first time in the 15-year-old Afghan conflict because of a mild winter, say Afghan army commanders.
Separately, Afghan security officials told VOA that at least 41 Islamic State militants were killed in overnight U.S. drone strikes in eastern Nangarhar province, which borders Pakistan.
A spokesman for the provincial police, Hazrat Hussain Mashreqiwal, told VOA that the strikes targeted a meeting of IS fighters in the remote Achin district.
General Cleveland said Thursday that IS appeared to be losing its grip in Afghanistan because of a steady aerial bombardment from American and NATO forces since the beginning of this year.
“We think we have significantly decreased the footprint that they have in Afghanistan," he said, adding that three months ago, IS held between six and eight districts, and now it holds just two to three.