The Taliban have launched a massive offensive against Afghanistan’s strategic city of Kunduz in the midst of reports that the militant group and the US are close to a “peace” deal.
Heavy fighting had been ongoing following attacks waged on the city by the militants from several directions on Friday night, prompting Afghan troops to respond and bolster reinforcement in efforts to thwart the Taliban’s move to capture parts of the key city, Afghan and Taliban officials said Saturday.
“Security forces are repelling the Taliban attack on some parts of Kunduz city. Their top priority is to protect the civilians,” Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s spokesman Sediq Sediqqi wrote in a Twitter posting, noting: “As always the Taliban have taken positions in civilian areas.”
Government authorities in Kunduz and Kabul said the insurgents were seeking shelter inside homes, making it impossible for Afghan and US forces to carry out airstrikes, and that some of the militants had gained access to the city’s main hospital.
Afghanistan’s Interior Ministry said at least 34 Taliban terrorists had been killed during ground and air operations in three areas of the city and that purging operations were still underway.
“The city is completely empty, shops are locked, people aren’t moving and light and heavy weapons can be heard in several parts of the city,” said local resident Khaluddin.
He said electricity and most telecommunications services were cut off and residents were taking cover inside their homes.
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahi also confirmed the raging battle in Kunduz. The militants have captured large pockets of the city’s outskirts three times over the past two years.
The latest Taliban offensive against the strategic northern city came amid growing anticipation that American and Taliban negotiators in the Qatari capital Doha were close to reaching an agreement that aimed at withdrawal of thousands of US military forces in the war-torn nation.
Senior US diplomat and native Afghan Zalmay Khalilzad representing Washington in the negotiations with the Taliban is expected in Kabul in the coming days to outline the terms of a peace settlement with the group to President Ashraf Ghani before holding talks with NATO partners in the country.
However, US President Donald Trump declared on Friday that although Washington had held good negotiations with the Taliban, it has not yet reached a deal with the Afghan insurgents on US troop withdrawal from Afghanistan.
This is while Taliban sources have been cited as insisting that Trump’s remarks about maintaining a contingent of US forces in Afghanistan, even after the signing of a deal, would be unacceptable to them as they demand a complete pullout of foreign troops from the country.
Nearly 20,000 US-led forces, most of them Americans, are currently deployed in Afghanistan as part of a NATO mission to purportedly train, assist and advise Afghan security forces.
Despite peace talks, deadly skirmishes between the Taliban and Afghan forces, as well as terror attacks on populated areas of the country, have not subsided.
The negotiations come almost 18 years after the US invaded Afghanistan to overthrow a ruling Taliban regime. US troops were first sent to Afghanistan after the September 11, 2001, attacks in the United States.
American forces have since remained bogged down in Afghanistan through the presidencies of George W. Bush, Barack Obama, and now, Donald Trump.
Source: Press TV