The Taliban launched a coordinated attack on the city of Kunduz in northeastern Afghanistan on Monday morning, setting off a gunbattle with Afghan forces that was still underway hours later, officials said.
The Afghan interior ministry said one policeman had been killed and another four wounded in the ongoing fighting. It said in a statement that the situation is being monitored in case reinforcements are needed.
Kunduz is the capital of the strategically important Kunduz province, a breadbasket region that borders Tajikistan to the north and sits on a major crossroad in the country.
The city was overrun by Taliban in September 2015, sending shockwaves through the country as it was the first time the militant group had taken a major urban centre since launching the insurgency 15 years ago. Kunduz came under threat again in April, when Afghan forces aided by US troops and air power pushed the Taliban back into the districts around the provincial capital.
Mahmood Danish, spokesperson for the provincial governor in Kunduz, said the insurgents staged Monday’s attack from different directions but that security forces managed to keep them at bay.
The Taliban were using residential areas in the assault and “our security forces are being very careful to avoid civilian casualties while shooting back at the enemy,” he said. The Afghan air force was also supporting the ground forces in the fight, he added.
Mohammadullah Bahej, head of the police coordination office in Kunduz, said security forces faced a four-prong Taliban attack. “Right now, the battles are underway in two areas on the outskirt of the city,” he added.
Taliban spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid claimed the insurgents had captured several checkpoints in the city. The US military spokesperson in Afghanistan, Brig. Gen. Charles Cleveland said the situation in Kunduz was being monitored but added: “We are not observing evidence via our internal means to support the reports that Kunduz is under significant attack.”
Later, Mohammad Yusouf Ayubi, head of the Kunduz provincial council, said heavy battles were taking place and that government offices, schools and shops have all been closed.
“People are shocked by this attack and unfortunately they can’t go anywhere, all roads are closed,” Ayubi added. He said parts of the city were empty and highways south toward Baghlan and east to Takhar provinces were closed amid the clashes on both sides of the city.
Esmatullah, a 22-year-old local shopkeeper from Kunduz, told The Associated Press that he couldn’t leave his home on Monday morning to open his shop, fearing the fighting.
“We are extremely worried that Taliban might be able to get control of the city from the Afghan forces,” he said.
Doctors Without Borders had planned to hold a memorial service on Monday for the victims of the US military bombing of their hospital in Kunduz a year ago, but the ceremony was called off after flights into the city were cancelled, the international medical charity said.
Elsewhere on Monday, an Afghan soldier was killed when a suicide attacker on a bicycle detonated a bomb near an army vehicle in Kabul, said Sadiq Muradi, a Kabul police official.
Three soldiers were wounded in the attack, he added. No group immediately claimed responsibility for the Kabul bombing.