The Taliban has stepped up the pressure on US negotiators and President Donald Trump to end America’s longest war by launching one of the biggest offensives in years against Kunduz, one of Afghanistan’s largest cities.
The militants, who have demanded that all foreign forces leave the country, now control or hold sway over roughly half of the country and are at their strongest since their 2001 defeat by a US-led invasion
“It was around 2 a.m. when we started hearing heavy firing,” Rahmatullah Rahimi, 52, a Kunduz resident who sells firewood, told the New York Times.
“With each rocket, our windows would shake. Neither I nor our neighbors have slept all night. How can you sleep with the sound of fighting? We are trying to see whether we should flee or stay.”
Some 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 attack comes as observers are predicting long-running peace talks in the Qatari capital of Doha are close to finalising a preliminary peace pact.
Presidential spokesman Sediq Seddiqi said Afghan security forces were repelling the massive attack in some parts of the city, a strategic crossroads with easy access to much of northern Afghanistan as well as the capital, Kabul, about 335 kilometres away.
“As always the Taliban have taken positions in civilian areas,” Seddiqi said on Twitter.
— Tariq Ghazniwal (@TGhazniwal) August 31, 2019
The Taliban were in control of the city’s hospital and both sides in the ongoing fighting had casualties, provincial council member Ghulam Rabani Rabani told The Associated Press. He could not give an exact number.
The Taliban launched the “massive attack” from several different points around the city overnight, said Sayed Sarwar Hussaini, spokesman for the provincial police chief.
“Hundreds of Taliban have attacked Kunduz city from three directions, and their assault has been fended off by our security and defense forces,” said Rohullah Ahmadzai, a spokesman for Afghanistan’s defence ministry
“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,” he said.
Reinforcements had arrived in the city and Afghan air forces were supporting ground forces, Hussaini said.
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid in a Twitter post called the latest 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 were expected to continue on Saturday. Both sides in recent days have signalled they are close to a deal.