KUNDUZ (Afghanistan) • Taleban fighters attacked the northern Afghan city of Kunduz, almost exactly a year after they briefly seized it in their biggest success of the 15-year war, while heavy fighting in the south underscored the country's deteriorating security.
Commander of the 808 Tandar police zone in Kunduz Sheer Ali Kamawal said the attack began at around midnight yesterday, and fighting was going on in and around the city. Some Taleban fighters had entrenched themselves in homes.
The fighters appeared to have slipped through a defensive security line set up around Kunduz, entering the city from four directions before clashes broke out, witnesses in the city said.
Military helicopters flew overhead and gunfire could be heard. Residents piled into cars and trailers to escape the city centre and shops were shut.
In Kabul, Brigadier-General Charles Cleveland, spokesman for Afghanistan's Nato-led force, said it was ready to provide support.
"At this point, we are not observing evidence via our internal means to support the reports that Kunduz is under significant attack," he said.
With fighting intensifying across the country, the attack on Kunduz, a day before a major donor conference in Brussels, underlined Afghanistan's precarious security situation and the Taleban's ability to strike at important targets. Government forces, fighting with limited Nato-force support following the end of the main international combat mission in 2014, are estimated to have control over two-thirds of the country at most.
The assault on Kunduz came as the Taleban stepped up attacks in different parts of Afghanistan, including the southern province of Helmand, where they have been threatening the provincial capital of Lashkar Gah.
Taleban fighters, positioned just across the Helmand river from the centre of Lashkar Gah, also took control of Nawa district to the south yesterday, killing a district police chief, officials said.
Heavy fighting has also continued along the main road to Tarin Kot, the provincial capital of Uruzgan, also in the south, where a Taleban raid on Sept 8 sparked fears of another collapse like that in Kunduz last year.
Meanwhile, at least six people were killed and 35 wounded yesterday when an improvised explosive device tore into a crowded marketplace in a northern province on the border with Turkmenistan, officials said.
The bomb, hidden on a bicycle, exploded as farmers gathered in Darzab district of the province of Jawzjan - about 300km west of Kunduz - on market day, but there was no immediate word on who was responsible.