Taliban have launched a new large-scale attack on one of Afghanistan’s main cities, Kunduz, and taken hospital patients as hostages.
Presidential spokesman Sediq Seddiqi said, Afghan security forces are repelling the attack in parts of the city. A Defence Ministry spokesman asserted that 26 Taliban fighters have been killed in an airstrike.
Taliban have continued bloody assaults on civilians and security forces even as their leaders meet with a US peace envoy in Qatar to negotiate an end to nearly 18 years of war.
Taliban insurgents on Saturday launched a multi-pronged assault on Kunduz, a strategically important city in northern Afghanistan that has come under frequent attack since 2015.
The ongoing offensive came as the US and the Taliban continue to seek an agreement in Doha that would see thousands of American troops leave Afghanistan in return for various security guarantees.
Officials said the fighting started around 1:00 am (2030 GMT Friday), when Taliban militants advanced on the city from several directions.
Gunfire could be heard across Kunduz, the capital of Kunduz province, and as the day wore on, both sides claimed units from the other´s forces were surrendering.
The Taliban said they had captured several important buildings, while the Afghan air force conducted at least five strikes and Afghan security officials insisted they had enough manpower on the ground to repel the attack.
The Taliban attack shows they “don´t believe in the peace opportunity provided by the US and the government of Afghanistan,” Sediq Sediqqi, spokesman for President Ashraf Ghani, said on Twitter.
“On the one hand they are talking with the US, on the other hand they are attacking people´s houses and villages. We will not leave their attack unanswered.”
According to government spokesman Feroz Bashari, at least 42 Taliban fighters had been killed and Afghan commandos had joined the counter-attack.
An AFP reporter in Kunduz earlier said small-arms and heavy-weapons fire could be heard in four areas of the city but by mid-morning all cellphone coverage appeared to have been cut.
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid claimed Saturday´s attack had resulted in the capture of several important structures.
“The Taliban attacked Kunduz city from several directions this morning. We are in the city now capturing government buildings one after the other,” he told reporters.
The US often provides air support and advice to ground troops during complex operations. A spokesman for the US military in Afghanistan referred questions to the Afghan forces.
In late September 2015, the Taliban attacked Kunduz, located near the border with Tajikistan.
The insurgents overwhelmed local forces and briefly seized the city, and it was only through extensive US air support that the Taliban were repelled.
The event garnered particular global attention after a US gunship struck a hospital run by Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders), killing dozens of patients and staff.
The fall of Kunduz also underscored the vulnerability of Afghan security forces and played a role in stopping the pull-out of US forces under president Barack Obama.
Since then, the city has come under frequent Taliban attack but the insurgents have not been able to repeat a full capture.