ISLAMABAD - Afghanistan’s president was forced to briefly delay his trip to India after hundreds of Taliban attacked police and army check posts in the northern Kunduz province Monday.
During the delay, Ashraf Ghani met with NATO’s top commander in Afghanistan, General John Campbell.
A spokesman for the foreign military alliance, Lt. Col. Chris Belcher, told VOA the meeting took place at the request of the Afghan presidency.
“I can confirm that General Campbell met with President Ghani today to discuss Kunduz. He routinely meets with President Ghani to discuss a variety of security issues,” said Belcher.
The fighting began Friday to mark the opening of the Taliban’s spring offensive. The militant group claims to have gained ground in the provincial capital and its spokesman Zabiullah Mujhahid tweeted Monday it has entered a bazaar in Kunduz.
Meanwhile, Afghan Interior Ministry spokesman Sediq Sediqi told VOA the military had dispatched reinforcements to the area and “enough forces” are dealing with the situation.
He also claimed that at least 40 Taliban insurgents have been killed in the "clearing operations" underway since Sunday, while the Afghan military has lost five of its soldiers. Local media reported at least 12 soldiers were killed.
"There is nothing to be concerned about because Afghan forces are capable of defeating the enemy,” Sediqi said.
In another development, Afghan media reports President Ghani's special envoy for provinces and reforms, Ahmed Zia Masood, survived a mortar attack while he was visiting northeastern Badakhshan province, where Taliban insurgents killed nearly two dozen Afghan security forces in clashes earlier this month.
Kunduz, the last militant stronghold before the Taliban was driven from power by U.S.-led coalition forces in 2001, borders Tajikistan and Badakhshan borders China.
On Sunday, Afghanistan’s provincial governor said the militants killed in the clean-up operation involved several foreigners, including Tajiks and Chechens.
The insurgents intensify their attacks across the country with the mountain snow melt and warmer weather that facilitate mobility of fighters and weapons.
Own their own
This is the first time Afghan forces are battling the Taliban in the traditional fighting season on their own, following the withdrawal of U.S.-led international combat troops in December. The NATO mission in the country, comprising around 12,000 troops, is mainly training and advising Afghan security forces.
Ghani’s so-called national unity government has come under severe criticism from Afghan lawmakers for not focusing on the security challenge facing the country. After months of political wrangling, President Ghani almost completed appointment to his Cabinet earlier this month, but the crucial post of defense minister has yet to be filled.
Differences with his election-rival-turned-coalition-partner, Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah, are blamed for the delay.