ISLAMABAD - Insurgent officials and Afghan media confirmed Monday evening the Taliban has seized control of Kunduz after staging a well-coordinated pre-dawn offensive against the northern city.
The insurgents also have released hundreds of prisoners after taking control of the detention facility. Afghan officials say that commando units of national security forces have arrived in the city and are preparing to launch a counteroffensive to retake control of Kunduz.
Critics are skeptical about Afghan forces’ capabilities, however, to launch night time operations.
Witnesses and the Taliban say the insurgents' white flag was hoisted over the city's main square.
Afghan officials said intense fighting was raging in Kunduz, but did not immediately confirm Monday that the Taliban was in full control of key installations.
Interior Ministry spokesman Sediq Sediqi told VOA earlier in the day that national security forces killed up to 25 insurgents, claiming there are no casualties among Afghan forces.
Media outlets, however, reported that dozens of local police were killed or wounded.
In eastern Afghanistan Sunday, authorities said hundreds of Islamic State militants staged a coordinated pre-dawn attack against key security outposts in Nangarhar province. Afghan forces forced the extremists to retreat.
Officials said it was the first major attack by Islamic State militants against Afghan forces, coming after months of reports that the extremist group is becoming more powerful in Afghanistan.
Reports say 85 militants and three Afghan policemen were killed. Achin district governor Haji Ghalib Mujahid told VOA in Islamabad that most of the heavily armed militants were Pakistani nationals.
Meanwhile, the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan has condemned a suicide bombing that left at least 17 people dead and 60 others wounded Sunday at a volleyball game in southeastern Paktika province. At least 15 children were among the dead and most of the injured were also children, according to UNAMA.
"An attack deliberating targeting a group of civilians playing volleyball is an act bereft of humanity and clearly violates national and international law, said Tadamichi Yamamoto, UNAMA's acting head. "This attack reflects the intent to destroy lives and spread terror among the civilian population," he said.
No one has claimed responsibility.
Increased activity by the Islamic State group, especially in Nangarhar province where it has been fighting with the Taliban, has put more pressure on Afghan security forces to control the extremists.
There are worries in Afghanistan that a leadership dispute among the Taliban could lead to more defections to the Islamic State group, strengthening its ranks in Afghanistan.
The United States says it is concerned about Islamic State efforts to try to establish a stronghold in Afghanistan.
“It is unpredictable as yet how it might evolve. It is something that we are taking seriously,” a senior State Department official said last week.