KABUL: Taliban fighters captured parts of the northeastern city of Kunduz on Saturday after a massive assault, despite representatives of the group inching closer to a peace deal with the US.
Ghulam Rabbani Rabbani, a member of the provincial council of Kunduz, told Arab News that the Taliban started their attack on security posts in the city’s outskirts at around 2 a.m.
“There is heavy fighting going on, the city is deserted almost except for some small shops in some alleys,” he said.
Helicopter gunships pounded some areas while jet fighters, apparently belonging to US-led NATO forces, hovered in the sky but did not appear to drop any ammunition, Rabbani said.
Government officials confirmed the attack on the city, where the Taliban has a significant presence.
The group captured it briefly in 2015 and again the following year.
“The defense and security forces have preparedness to foil the Taliban attack on Kunduz city. The Taliban will face defeat like the past times,” Sediq Seddiqi, President Ashraf Ghani’s chief spokesman said.
Sayed Sarwar Hussieni, a spokesman for Kunduz police, said over 20 Taliban fighters were killed by one bomb dropped by the Afghan Air Force.
The Taliban claimed to have killed dozens of government troops. A video distributed by the group showed a group of armed men, dressed in military uniforms, surrendering to Taliban fighters after leaving what appeared to be a government building.
Electricity was cut and few mobile services were available, residents said.
A video on social media showed heavy fighting with children yelling in the background.
The attack on Kunduz comes amid a series of military gains by the group in recent weeks throughout the country.
The Taliban overran some areas in adjacent Takhar on Friday and last week seized one district in Badakhshan and some territory in Faryab province, which are far from its traditional center in the south and east.
Attiqullah Amarkhail, former chief of the Afghan Air Force, said the attack in Kunduz demonstrated an intelligence failure in Ghani’s divided government, which has been left out of talks between the Taliban and the US.
“It is a blow in many aspects, politically and militarily. It is the third time the Taliban gain ground in Kunduz and the government forces are not learning from their past mistakes,” he told Arab News.
“While the talks are nearing a final deal in Qatar, the Taliban attacked Kunduz in order to show their strength and further describe the Kabul government as incompetent,” he added.
A Taliban spokesman said its delegates and US diplomats will resume discussions on Saturday in Qatar.
The Taliban is demanding total expulsion of US-led troops from Afghanistan.