Friday 20 April 2018

Taliban continue co-ordinated attacks on Afghanistan's north and south

An Afghan soldier raises his hands as a victory sign, in Kunduz city, where fierce gun battles with the Taliban are under way for a second day (AP)
An Afghan soldier raises his hands as a victory sign, in Kunduz city, where fierce gun battles with the Taliban are under way for a second day (AP)

Fierce gun battles are raging for a second day in Afghanistan's embattled northern city of Kunduz, while in the country's south insurgents killed 12 policemen at checkpoints around Helmand's provincial capital.

The timing of the co-ordinated assaults was particularly poignant, coming a year after the Taliban captured and held parts of Kunduz before the city was fully liberated weeks later with the help of US air strikes.

In the latest attack in Helmand, Taliban fighters besieged police checkpoints around Lashkar Gah late on Monday night, killing 12 policemen and wounding another 11.

Lashkar Gah has been under threat of Taliban takeover for months as insurgents have been slowly taking control of Helmand since the beginning of the year, with some officials saying 85% of the province is now under Taliban control - or 12 of its 14 districts.

That includes Khanashin district in the south of the province, which provincial spokesman Omar Zwak said had fallen to the Taliban after coming under attack on Monday. In recent days, he said, around 45 members of Afghan security forces have been killed in fighting there and more than 15 have been taken captive.

In Kunduz, the Taliban began their attack from all directions early on Monday. They briefly raised a flag over a main intersection before being repelled from the city centre.

Fierce fighting continued on Tuesday, with Taliban gunmen using residential homes as hideouts in a number of areas, slowing down the efforts of Afghan security forces to repel them from the city, said Interior Ministry spokesman Sediq Sediqqi.

The Afghan forces are "trying to secure the city", but progress is slow and difficult. At least 30 insurgents have been killed in the two days of fighting, he said. It is unclear how many Taliban fighters are involved in the attack.

Mohammad Yusouf Ayubi, the head of the Kunduz provincial council, said the city has become a battlefield, with fighting going on in many areas.

"We can't go to our (council) office because the area is under the control of the Taliban," he said, adding that council members are instead gathering at a location about a mile from the city.

The militants have planted mines around the city, making movement extremely difficult, he said. "Local people are trapped in their homes."

Gen Dawlat Waziri, spokesman for the Defence Ministry, said five Afghan security personnel have been killed in the fighting and 13 others wounded so far.

"We are very careful in using air strikes and artillery in this fight, to avoid civilian casualties," he added.

Kunduz is the capital of a province with the same name, a region that borders Tajikistan to the north and sits on a major crossroad in the country.

Its fall last year sent shockwaves across the country and among Afghanistan's backers in the international community as it marked the Taliban's first capture of an urban centre since the group was driven from power in 2001. Since then, Afghan officials and US military leaders have said it will never fall again.

The city came under threat again in April, when US-backed Afghan forces pushed the Taliban back into surrounding districts.

Mr Sediqqi said Monday's attack could be a Taliban show of force to coincide with a Brussels aid conference where Afghanistan's international partners are expected to pledge billions of pounds in aid through to 2020.

US military spokesman in Afghanistan Brig Gen Charles Cleveland said the Afghan military has moved reinforcements into Kunduz overnight but he insisted the fighting is sporadic and that the government still controls Kunduz.

There were no US air strikes overnight but "there was one US air-to ground engagement by helicopter on the outskirts of Kunduz city to defend friendly forces", Brig Gen Cleveland said.

He added: "US forces... will provide support as needed."


Press Association

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