Taliban take key Afghan district, adding to string of gains
KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — Taliban fighters took control of a key district in Afghanistan’s northern Kunduz province Monday and encircled the provincial capital, police said, as the insurgent group added to its recent battlefield victories while peace talks have stalemated.
The Taliban’s gains came as the Pentagon reaffirmed the U.S. troop withdrawal was still on pace to conclude by early September.
Fighting around Imam Sahib district began late Sunday and by midday Monday the Taliban had overrun the district headquarters and were in control of police headquarters, said Inamuddin Rahmani, provincial police spokesman said.
Taliban militants were within a kilometer (.6 miles) of Kunduz, the provincial capital but had not entered into the city, he said, although there were reports of small bands of Taliban near the outskirts and residents trying to leave for Kabul.
Dozens of districts have fallen to the Taliban since May 1, when U.S. and NATO troops began their final departure from Afghanistan. Like Imam Sahib district in northern Kunduz, their significance often lies in their proximity to roads and major cities.
Imam Sahib is strategically located near Afghanistan’s northern border with Tajikistan, a key supply route from Central Asia.
Rahmani said police and Afghan National Army soldiers had jointly tried to defend the district. He said it still wasn’t clear how many casualties the Afghan National Security and Defense Forces suffered in the protracted battle or how many Taliban were killed or wounded.
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahed confirmed Imam Sahib district was in Taliban hands.
Several other districts in Kunduz have also fallen to the insurgent group in the latest round of fighting, including Dasht-e-Archi, which neighbors Imam Sahib, said Rahmani, further consolidating local transportation links in the area.
Syed Mohammad Mousavi drove with his family to the relative safety of Kabul from northern Mazar-e-Sharif, about 120 kilometers (75 miles) west of Kunduz on Sunday.
He said people were trying to leave Kunduz city for Kabul fearing additional fighting. “The Taliban were all over the road, checking cars. We were very scared,” he said after reaching the capital.