The Taliban have launched a new large-scale attack on Kunduz, one of Afghanistan’s main cities, and taken hospital patients as hostages, the Afghan government said yesterday, even as the insurgent group continued negotiations with the US on ending the US’ longest war.
The militants, who have demanded that all foreign forces leave Afghanistan, now control or hold sway over roughly half the country and are at their strongest since their 2001 defeat by a US-led invasion.
Presidential spokesman Sediq Seddiqi said that Afghan security forces were repelling the attack in parts of the city, a strategic crossroads with easy access to much of northern Afghanistan as well as the capital, Kabul, about 335km away.
The Taliban were in control of the Kunduz hospital and both sides in the fighting had casualties, provincial council member Ghulam Rabani Rabani told reporters.
He could not give an exact number.
The militants had taken hospital patients as hostages, Afghan Ministry of Defense spokesman Rohullah Ahmadzai told reporters in Kabul.
He did not say how many.
“We could very easily attack, but we don’t want civilian casualties,” Ahmadzai said.
Hospital officials could not immediately be reached.
The spokesman said that 26 Taliban fighters had been killed in an airstrike, but did not mention any casualties among civilians or Afghan security forces.
The Taliban launched the “massive attack” from several different points around the city overnight, said Sayed Sarwar Hussaini, spokesman for the provincial police chief.
“I can confirm that intense gun battles are going on around the city, but the Taliban have not been able to overrun any security checkpoint,” Hussaini said.
Reinforcements had arrived and Afghan air forces were supporting ground forces, he said.
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid in a Twitter post called the attack “large-scale.”
The 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.
Talks continued yesterday, the Taliban spokesman said.
Both sides in recent days have signaled that they are close to a deal.
About 20,000 US and NATO forces remain in Afghanistan after formally ending their combat role in 2014. They continue to train and support Afghan forces fighting the Taliban and a local affiliate of the Islamic State group.
The US for its part seeks Taliban guarantees that Afghanistan will no longer be a launching pad for terror attacks.
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