Taliban launches two-prong attack on Afghanistan

The attacks came as president Ashraf Ghani prepared to head to Brussels for a key international aid conference this week, where he expects donors to pledge US$3 billion

Afghan National Army commandos take position during a military operation in Helmand province.   / AFP / NOOR MOHAMMAD
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KABUL // The Taliban launched two large-scale coordinated assaults on opposite ends of Afghanistan on Monday, attacking a northern city from several directions and attacking a police station in a southern district, killing the local police chief.

Officials in northern Kunduz province and in southern Helmand province, the insurgents’ heartland, described fierce, well-planned operations involving a large number of gunmen who attacked under cover of darkness. Elsewhere in Afghanistan, bomb attacks on civilians and soldiers killed at least seven more people on Monday.

The attacks came as president Ashraf Ghani prepared to head to Brussels for a key international aid conference this week, where he expects donors to pledge US$3 billion (Dh11bn) a year in assistance for his impoverished, war-torn nation.

The Kunduz attack came a year after the Taliban took control of the city – the first time the militant group had taken a major urban centre since launching its insurgency 15 years ago. The militants held off Afghan security forces, backed by US troops and air power, for several days before they were eventually pushed out.

Residents and officials said the fighters attacked from all directions in Monday’s assault. This time, however, Mahmood Danish, spokesman for the Kunduz provincial governor, said security forces managed to keep them at bay.

The interior ministry said a policeman was killed and four others wounded in the ongoing fighting. The situation was being monitored, it added, in case reinforcements were needed.

Kunduz is the capital of the strategically important Kunduz province, a breadbasket region that borders Tajikistan to the north and sits on a major crossroad in the country.

Mohammad Yusouf Ayubi, head of the Kunduz provincial council, said heavy battles had forced government offices, schools and shops to close, and that parts of the city were empty. Roads south toward Baghlan province and east to Takhar province were also shut amid clashes on both sides of the city, he said.

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid claimed the insurgents had captured several checkpoints in the city.

The US military spokesman in Afghanistan, Brigadier Generl Charles Cleveland said the Kunduz situation was being monitored but that the international alliance was not seeing evidence “to support the reports that Kunduz is under significant attack”.

In Helmand, where most of Afghanistan’s opium is produced from poppy fields effectively controlled by the Taliban, insurgents attacked a police headquarters in Naway district, killing the local police chief.

Afzel Khan, a policeman who survived the attack, said a suicide car bomber hit the compound around 2.30am, blasting through the gate and allowing gunmen in afterward.

Officials said at least 10 policemen had been killed in total and another 20 wounded.

Provincial spokesman Omar Zwak said the Taliban had also attacked in Helmand’s Nad Ali district, but had no further details.

* Associated Press