Taliban launch assault on Afghan city of Kunduz

The Taliban launched an attack on the northern city of Kunduz early Saturday morning in a violent show of force against the Afghan government even as the group's leaders meet with USA negotiators in Qatar in a bid to finalize a peace deal that could put an end to 18 years of war.

Afghan officials said the insurgents had captured several installations in three areas of the strategic northern city and taken several patients hostage at a local hospital.

Afghan officials confirmed casualties among security forces in the day of fighting but did not say how many and said at least 60 Taliban fighters had been killed.

Khalilzad said earlier this month that such a deal wouldn't mean that the United States would no longer come to the aid of the Afghan government's security forces, which the Taliban refuses to recognize as legitimate.

Both sides in recent days have signaled they are close to a deal to end almost 18 years of war, which will pave the way for a full peace agreement with the Afghan government.

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said in a tweet that Afghan forces were under heavy pressure in different parts of the city.

The insurgents overwhelmed local forces and briefly seized the city, and it was only through extensive USA air support that the Taliban were repelled.

"The Taliban attacked Kunduz today and caused damages to civilians and their houses".

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Gunfire could be heard across the strategically important city, where electricity and most telephone services had been cut.

The Taliban now control or hold sway over roughly half of the country and are at their strongest since their 2001 defeat by a USA -led invasion.

"On the one hand they are talking with the United States, on the other hand they are attacking people's houses and villages".

Afghan officials say 60 Taliban fighters have been killed in the assault.

Afghan presidential spokesman Sediq Seddiqi told reporters on Saturday that the Taliban's assault on Kunduz was "completely against the peace talks". The Afghan presidential spokesperson said Khalilzad will visit Kabul at some point to brief the government on the details.

The United States ended its combat role in 2014, although 20,000 USA and North Atlantic Treaty Organisation forces remain in the country. The US for its part seeks Taliban guarantees that Afghanistan will no longer be a launching pad for terror attacks such as the September 11, 2001, attack on the US by al-Qaida.

The president on Thursday said the US plans to withdraw more than 5,000 American troops from Afghanistan - bringing the level to 8,600 - and then will determine further drawdowns, but he offered no timetable. A year later, the insurgents pushed into the city center and were, again, repelled.

  • Sonia Alvarado