Taliban fighters have captured a key district in Afghanistan's northern province of Baghlan after days of fighting, Afghan officials say.
The fighters launched a coordinated attack on Dahana-e-Ghori on Friday that led to heavy fighting in the area until the Taliban took control of the district on Monday.
Amir Gul Hussainkhil, deputy police chief of Baghlan, said Dahana-e-Ghori district was under siege for days and the Taliban managed to seize it because dozens of Afghan forces made "a tactical retreat".
However, the Taliban, known to exaggerate in their reporting of casualties and impact of the attacks for which they claim responsibility, said they killed and captured "many" policemen.
"We have hoisted our white flag in the district now. Many Afghan forces have been killed and 33 soldiers are captured," Zabiullah Mujahid, Taliban spokesman, told Al Jazeera.
Al Jazeera's Qais Azimy, reporting from Kabul, said the Taliban opened two other frontlines, fighting against Afghan security forces in Baghlan-e-Markazi, which neighbours Dahana-e-Ghori, and in Tala wa Barfak.
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"The importance of Baghlan province is that the main highway which links Kabul to the nine other provinces in the north and northeast of Afghanistan cross Baghalan province," he said.
"So if the Taliban manages to keep control of Dahana-e-Ghori and gain control of Baghlan-e-Markazi district, where heavy fighting is still going on, that could mean they will be able to control the main highway of the nine other districts."
Elsewhere, in the southern province of Helmand, fighting continues to rage in four districts as Afghan forces hold off fighters advancing on the provincial capital, according to government officials.
About 30,000 people have been displaced in Helmand in recent weeks, local officials said, with many of them fleeing to Lashkar Gah, the provincial capital, forced to abandon their lentil, maize and cotton crops during the lucrative harvest season.
One third of casualties reported between January and June in Afghanistan were children, with 388 killed and 1,121 wounded, 18 percent more than in the first half of 2015, a figure the UN described as "alarming and shameful".
Fighting has escalated in Afghanistan as the Taliban insurgency spreads from its traditional strongholds in the south and east of the country to once peaceful regions in the north.
The security problems facing Afghanistan are being compounded by a growing political crisis within the Afghan government.
Abdullah Abdullah, Afghanistan's chief executive, recently criticised President Ashraf Ghani for failing to work collaboratively and deemed him undeserving to serve the government.
"The political crisis in the country is what the Taliban are benefiting from. If you talk to any soldier, they will tell you that it is lowering their morale," Al Jazeera's Azimy reported.
Despite air support from US and Afghan warplanes, government troops are struggling against the Taliban, with senior government officials saying the fighters are becoming better trained and equipped.
With reporting by Shereena Qazi, follow her on Twitter: @shereenaqazi
Source: Al Jazeera and agencies