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Taliban Insurgents Overrun Northern Afghan District

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

Taliban insurgents in Afghanistan have overrun a remote northern district after days of intense clashes with government forces, officials confirmed to local media on Thursday.

The Taliban first assaulted the district of Qala-e-Zal in Kunduz province earlier this week and both sides have since claimed to have inflicted heavy casualties.

A leading Afghan television station, Tolo, quoted provincial Governor Asadullah Omarkhil as saying that “most parts” of the district “fell to the Taliban” overnight. He added that Afghan troops have launched counteroffensives to retake control of the lost territory.

Residents in the province's Dasht-e-Archi district have also reported heavy clashes between Afghan forces and insurgents. A Taliban spokesman said its fighters have captured the district, but Afghan officials have not yet commented on the development.

The Taliban briefly overran the provincial capital of last September. Afghan forces retook control of the city with the help of U.S. air support, but residents say groups of retreating insurgents have since entrenched themselves in surrounding districts.

A spokesman for NATO’s Resolute Support mission in Afghanistan, Col. Carol Paraniak, has dismissed concerns Kunduz will again fall to the anti-government fighters. He told VOA that Afghan forces deployed in the area are capable of addressing the situation.

“If Kunduz falls again, it is of course very serious; but, we don't see that that could happen because the security forces, not only the army, the air force and the special forces, they have made a huge improvement.” he said.

Col. Paraniak acknowledged that Afghanistan's National Army is benefiting from a recent decision by U.S. President Barack Obama to authorize U.S. forces to undertake combat missions targeting the Taliban.

The Taliban also made advances this week in northeastern Badakhshan province but those were short-lived. The recent fighting in northern Afghan areas follows a lull of several months.