The Taliban fighters have gained control of key government buildings in Kunduz as intense fighting rages on between Afghan forces and the insurgents, who have already sezied two provincial capitals in as many days.
The Taliban have also taken government buildings in the northern provincial capital of Sar-e Pul, driving officials out of the main city to a nearby military base, Mohammad Noor Rahmani, a provincial council member of Sar-e Pul province, said on Sunday.
A Taliban offensive has gathered momentum in recent days, as the insurgents unleashed their forces across Afghanistan after the United States announced it would end its military mission in the country by the end of August.
On Friday, the insurgents captured their first provincial capital in years when they took control of Zaranj, on the border with Iran in Afghanistan’s southern Nimroz province.
An Afghan security forces spokesman said “extremely (heavy) fighting is going on” in Kunduz, as security forces fought to defend the city, regarded as a strategic prize as it lay at the gateway to mineral-rich northern provinces and Central Asia.
But a provincial lawmaker in Kunduz told Reuters the insurgents had taken key buildings in the city of 270,000 people, raising fears that it could be the latest to fall to the Taliban.
“Heavy clashes started yesterday afternoon, all government headquarters are in control of the Taliban, only the army base and the airport is with ANDSF (Afghan security forces) from where they are resisting the Taliban,” Amruddin Wali, a member of the Kunduz provincial assembly, said.
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said the group had largely captured the province and were close to the airport.
Rohullah Ahmadzai, the spokesman for the Ministry of Defence, said on Facebook that special forces were in Kunduz and had been conducting “clearance operations” in the city to take back media offices that the Taliban had captured.
Health officials in Kunduz said that 14 bodies, including those of women and children, and more than 30 injured people had been taken to hospital.
In Sar-e Pul, Rahmani said: “Government headquarters, including the governor’s house, police command, and the National Directorate of Security compound, are captured by the Taliban.”