ISLAMABAD, August 21, 2016: Taliban forces launched overnight and pre-dawn assaults on two districts in eastern and northern Afghanistan, capturing one of them, say Afghan officials and insurgent sources.
Local police commander Munir Himat told VOA hundreds of Taliban insurgents staged a pre-dawn assault on Hesarak in eastern Nangarhar province, which borders Pakistan, but that security forces with the support of airstrikes pushed them back, inflicting heavy casualties on the enemy. He reported fighting was still taking place in parts of the district.
Afghan officials also confirmed the fall of Khan Abad district in northern Kunduz province to the Taliban in overnight fighting and say heavy fighting is taking place in the nearby Aliabad district.
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Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid says it has taken control of the entire district of Khan Abad in northern Kunduz province and has released video of Afghan soldiers insurgents captured before the important territorial victory.
The fall of the Khan Abad district after days of heavy clashes would bring the Islamist insurgent group close enough to threaten the strategically important provincial capital also named Kunduz that was briefly overrun by the Taliban during last year’s fighting.
Significance of Kunduz
Kunduz’s fall to the Taliban in September of 2015 had dealt a blow to authorities and Afghanistan’s international backers because this was the first major urban centre the insurgents captured after NATO withdrew its combat forces from the country.
“Kunduz is currently the most vulnerable province in the Afghan North. Since the provincial capital fell last year, Kunduz has seen more Taliban attacks on district centres than any other province in the country,” according to Kabul-based independent Afghanistan Analysts Network.
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The insurgents recently captured a district in the neighbouring Baghlan province to expand their influence in the area in a bid to threaten Afghanistan’s crucial ring road, which circles the country. Observers say the Taliban appears to be trying to cut off of the road to restrict Kabul’s access to the northern provinces
Meanwhile, U.S. Air Force Chief of Staff General David Golden revealed this past week that B-52 strategic bombers have carried out airstrikes against targets in Afghanistan for the first time in a decade, underscoring the intensity of the fighting.
According to a statement, U.S. warplanes have flown more than 800 sorties and conducted more than 140 strikes in the country since U.S. President Barack Obama ordered in June that air power be used more proactively in Afghanistan.
Critics say that recent security gains by Afghan forces across the country have been overshadowed by the Taliban’s recent battlefield victories.
The insurgent group has overrun several districts in Afghanistan’s largest province of Helmand and fighting there has most recently been taking place near the provincial capital, Lashkar Gah.
The Taliban’s steady advances in the poppy-growing province, which borders Pakistan, have come despite increased in American airstrikes in the area. (VOA)