Hundreds of Taliban fighters have largely taken over a district in Afghanistan’s northern Kunduz province as intense fighting with the Afghan security forces continues.
After three days of clashes, Taliban fighters took over up to “65-70 percent” of the Qala-e-Zal district, Afghan officials said on Wednesday, as part of an intensifying wave of attacks across the country.
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“Parts of the district have fallen into the hands of the Taliban, but our security forces are fighting them back,” Mahmoud Danish, a spokesman for the provincial governor, told Al Jazeera.
In a statement to Al Jazeera, the Taliban claimed the entire district had fallen into their hands.
Nabi Ghichi, the local police commander, told Al Jazeera that the Taliban attack began in the early hours of Monday, warning that he had little logistical support to push back the armed group’s fighters.
District governor Mahbubullah Saeedi told the DPA news agency that 15 Taliban fighters, one Afghan security force member and one civilian had so far been killed in the fighting. Another 23 Taliban fighters and seven security force members had been wounded.
Scores of families have fled the district after the fight erupted.
“Most of the houses are empty as many fled the ongoing conflict in the district,” Ajmal, a local journalist based in Kunduz, told Al Jazeera.
“It looks like the fight will continue for the next few days.”
Kunduz is one of the most volatile provinces in the country’s north. The capital of the province fell to the Taliban briefly last year, before being recaptured by government forces, and most districts have a heavy Taliban presence.
Kunduz was threatened again in April, when the attacks were repelled by Afghan troops working with US forces.
US President Barack Obama announced earlier this month that he planned to leave 8,400 American troops in Afghanistan at the end of his term – an increase from his previous plan, reflecting the difficulty of drawing down the US presence in the country.
In response to Obama’s announcement, Taliban spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid told Al Jazeera: “Whether the US decides to keep [its] troops in Afghanistan or not, whether the numbers are more or less, we will continue to fight them.
The Afghan Taliban on Tuesday rejected claims that the movement had been weakened after its leadership transition, saying the recent lull in operations was due to the holy fasting month of Ramadan.
With reporting by Shereena Qazi. Follow her on Twitter