The Taliban and Afghan forces clashed on Monday on the outskirts of the strategic northern city of Kunduz, with the insurgents claiming to have captured three districts in the region in a week.
The Taliban have launched major offensives targeting government forces since early May when the US military began its final troop withdrawal, and claim to have seized more than 50 of the country’s 421 districts.
Many of their claims are disputed by the government, and independent verification is difficult -- especially in areas that frequently change hands.
“The Taliban fighters are at the gates of the city and they are fighting Afghan forces,” said Amruddin Wali, a Kunduz provincial council member.
He said the insurgents have also taken up positions on highways that connect Kunduz city to neighboring provinces.
On Monday, the Taliban claimed they had captured the Imam Sahib district of the province, the third to be taken in a week.
Kunduz police spokesman Inamuddin Rahmani confirmed the fighting, and said his forces had killed about 50 Taliban fighters in the past 24 hours.
Both the Taliban and Afghan forces frequently exaggerate casualties inflicted on each other.
The Taliban said they have not launched an offensive on the city of Kunduz itself.
“We have launched operations around the city,” Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid told AFP.
The Taliban have repeatedly attempted to capture the city, located not far from the border with Tajikistan.
The insurgents briefly held Kunduz twice before -- in September 2015, and again a year later.
Kunduz, with a significant population of Pashtun, had been a stronghold of the Taliban before the militants seized power in the 1990s.
The city’s location makes it a key transit point for economic and trade exchanges with Tajikistan.
In recent weeks the insurgents have focused on capturing territory in northern Afghanistan, and security forces have largely failed to stop their assaults.
The insurgents claim to have captured several districts in the northern provinces of Faryab, Takhar and Badakhshan, forcing military leaders to strategically retreat from a number of areas.
The defense ministry confirmed that government troops had retreated from several districts but said they aimed to take them back.
The Taliban are now present in almost every province and are encircling several major cities -- a strategy the militants employed in the mid-1990s when they overran most of Afghanistan until they were ousted by invading US-led forces.
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