KUNDUZ, AFGHANISTAN - Taliban militants captured a district just outside the northern Afghan city of Kunduz Saturday, officials said.
Mahfouz Akbari, a police spokesman for eastern Afghanistan, said security forces pulled out of Qala-i-Zal district, west of Kunduz city, Saturday to avoid further civilian and military casualties after more than 24 hours of heavy fighting.
In a statement, Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said the insurgents had taken the police headquarters, the governor’s compound and all security checkpoints. He said several police and soldiers had been killed and wounded.
Taliban there before
Over the past 18 months, Taliban insurgents have twice succeeded in seizing the town center of Kunduz for brief periods and the latest fighting underscores warnings that Afghan forces face another grueling year of fighting.
A shopkeeper, whose name is also Zabihullah, said the situation was reminiscent of last October when Taliban forces entered the city before being driven back after days of fighting and air strikes.
“I am extremely worried. There are security forces everywhere,” he said. “Everyone in my family is worried and if the situation gets worse, we’ll have to leave.”
According to U.S. estimates, government fighters control about 60 percent of the country, with the rest either controlled or contested by the insurgents, who are seeking to reimpose Islamic law after their 2001 ouster.
Although the Taliban made a formal announcement of their spring offensive last week, there had been heavy fighting from the northern province of Badakhshan to the Taliban heartlands of Helmand and Kandahar in the south.
In the Helmand province Saturday, Gen. Aqa Noor Kentoz, provincial police chief, said at least four police officers were killed Friday night at a checkpoint on the outskirts of Lashkar Gah, the provincial capital.
The four might have been attacked by an insider, Kentoz said, and an investigation is underway.
No one immediately claimed responsibility.
There have also been several operations against Islamic State militants in the eastern province of Nangarhar, which have also involved U.S. special forces and air strikes.
More than 1,000 members of Afghan security forces have been killed since the start of the year, according to Afghan officials and figures cited by U.S. Congressional watchdog SIGAR, along with more than 700 civilians.
Also, more than 75,000 people have been forced to flee their homes in the first four months of the year, according to United Nations figures.
More troops needed
Earlier this year, the top NATO commander in Afghanistan, Gen. John Nicholson, said he needed a few thousand more international troops to boost the Resolute Support training and advisory mission and break a “stalemate” with the Taliban.
The U.S. military is due to make its formal recommendations to President Donald Trump within the next week, a senior official told a Senate committee last week.