KUNDUZ, Afghanistan (AFP/REUTERS) - The Taleban on Monday (Sept 28) seized control of half of a major Afghan city, an AFP journalist and two tribal elders said, the first time they have done so since the United States-led invasion of 2001.
The Taleban are in control of around half of Kunduz, Afghanistan's fifth-largest city, a senior police official said on Monday. Mr Sayed Sarwar Hussaini, police spokesman for the north-eastern Kunduz province, told a news conference: "Around half the city has fallen into the hands of Taleban insurgents.
"Our forces have not yet received support. The fighting is still going on," he added.
Afghan Taleban fighters have hoisted their white banner over the main square, a Reuters witness and two security officials said on Monday.
Battles between government forces and the Taleban were raging about 500m from the governor's compound, the deputy governor said, after he had fled to the city's airport.
A Reuters reporter saw Taleban fighters hoist their flag over Traffic Square, the main intersection of the city of around 300,000 people.
Taleban insurgents also broke into the main prison in Kunduz on Monday, freeing hundreds of fellow Islamist fighters, two security officials said.
Armed with rocket-propelled grenades, the militants overwhelmed security guards at the jail in Kunduz city centre, according to two officials there who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Government reinforcements were on their way to try to prevent the city from falling entirely to the Taleban, according to the deputy governor.
The Islamist group was driven out of cities when it was ousted from power by a Nato coalition in 2001, but has maintained control over parts of the countryside.
Kunduz, in the north-east, is situated around 250km north of the capital Kabul.
"The Taleban have taken over our neighbourhood, which is part of Kunduz city, I can see their fighters all around," an AFP journalist in the city said.
A senior tribal elder said the militia had control of one of the city's districts, while a second elder added his house was now around 100m from their forward line.
"The Taleban launched a major offensive from different sides on Kunduz city with the major push coming from the north, beginning at 3am last night," the elder, who requested anonymity said.
"The Taleban are less than 1km from the city's centre," he continued, adding they had also seized a 200-bed hospital.
Government officials denied the reports and said they are battling the insurgents on the city's outskirts.
"The Taleban in the early morning had managed to enter one neighbourhood on the edge of the Kunduz city, but they have been pushed back with heavy casualties, our forces are pursuing them," the province's police spokesman Sayed Sarwar Hussaini told AFP.
A statement issued by the Ministry of Defence added: "Thirty-five of the enemy fighters have been killed.
"The Afghan security forces assure the people, that they have inflicted a heavy blow on the enemy and will provide security to all people of Kunduz province."
Afghanistan's NATO-trained police and army have been fighting the Islamist militants this year without the front-line help of foreign forces, which ended their combat mission in December 2014.