ISLAMABAD - Afghan forces have retaken a key northern district hours after it fell to the Taliban, officials announced late on Saturday.
Spokespeople for the defense and interior ministries told a joint news conference in Kabul that fierce fighting for the control of Khan Abad left at least 75 insurgents dead, including four Taliban commanders.
They also confirmed that six Afghan security personnel were killed while another 16 were wounded.
National security forces are currently engaged in cleanup operations in Khan Abad to eliminate Taliban insurgents from remaining pockets there.
Defense Ministry spokesman Dawlat Waziri ruled out the possibility of the fall of the provincial capital of Kunduz, saying “enough” forces are deployed in the city to defend it. He added his ministry has also readied reinforcements in Kabul for deployment in Kunduz if needed.
The Taliban seized control of Khan Abad in an overnight offensive that it claimed killed and wounded dozens of Afghan forces. The insurgent group also released a video showing more than a dozen soldiers in Taliban captivity after it captured the district.
Authorities have also confirmed heavy clashes were taking place between government forces and the insurgents in the Aliabad district in Kunduz.
The brief collapse of the strategically important Khan Abad district had raised fears the Taliban were on the verge of assaulting and capturing the provincial capital that was briefly overrun by the Islamist insurgency during last year’s fighting.
Kunduz’s fall to the Taliban in September of 2015 had dealt a blow to authorities and Afghanistan’s international backers because this was the first major urban center the insurgents captured after NATO withdrew its combat forces from the country.
“Kunduz is currently the most vulnerable province in the Afghan North. Since the provincial capital fell last year, Kunduz has seen more Taliban attacks on district centers than any other province in the country," according to the Kabul-based independent Afghanistan Analysts Network.
Taliban attacks elsewhere
Meanwhile, a local police commander, Munir Himat, told VOA that hundreds of Taliban insurgents staged a pre-dawn assault on Hesarak in eastern Nangarhar province, which borders Pakistan.
But he asserted that security forces with the support of airstrikes pushed them back, inflicting heavy casualties on the enemy and fighting was still taking place in parts of the district.
The insurgents last week captured a key district in the neighboring Baghlan province to expand their influence in the area in a bid to threaten Afghanistan’s crucial ring road, which circles the country. Observers say the Taliban appears to be trying to cut off the road to restrict Kabul’s access to the northern provinces.
But Waziri Saturday rejected those concerns, saying fresh troops have been deployed to several northern and northeastern districts over the past week and the government faced no difficulties in sending reinforcements to troubled spots.
Meanwhile, U.S. Air Force Chief of Staff General David Golden revealed this past week that B-52 strategic bombers have carried out airstrikes against targets in Afghanistan for the first time in a decade, underscoring the intensity in the fighting.
According to a statement, U.S. warplanes have flown more than 800 sorties and conducted more than 140 strikes in the country since U.S. President Barack Obama ordered in June that air power be used more proactively in Afghanistan.
Critics say that recent security gains by Afghan forces across the country have been overshadowed by the Taliban’s recent battlefield victories.
The insurgent group has overrun several districts in Afghanistan's largest province of Helmand and fighting there has most recently been taking place near the provincial capital, Lashkar Gah.
The Taliban's steady advances in the poppy-growing province, which borders Pakistan, have come despite increased in American airstrikes in the area.