Afghan forces repel Taliban in Kunduz as spring fighting begins

Afghan security forces travel in a Humvee vehicle, as battles were ongoing between Taliban militants and Afghan security forces, in Kunduz, capital of northeastern Kunduz province on September 28, 2015. The Taliban are in control of around half of Kunduz, Afghanistan's fifth largest city, a senior police official said September 28. Sayed Sarwar Hussaini, police spokesman for the northeastern Kunduz province, told a news conference: "Around half the city has fallen into the hands of Taliban insurgents." AFP PHOTO / Najim Rahim

Afghan security forces drove Taliban fighters back from Kunduz city Friday, officials said, as the insurgents began the 2016 fighting season by targeting the northeastern provincial capital they briefly captured last year.

Fighting took place within city limits as well as in six provincial districts, Kunduz governor Asadullah Omarkhil said in a video statement.

“Fortunately they have faced defeat by the Afghan security forces,” he said, adding that 30 insurgents were killed and 20 wounded within the city’s limits.

“At the moment, the security situation is absolutely normal,” he said.

“They dreamed of capturing the city of Kunduz, but they faced a jaw-breaking answer from Afghan forces.”

The Taliban left security forces reeling with their brief takeover of Kunduz late last year, their biggest victory since they were toppled from power in 2001.

On Tuesday the insurgents announced the start of the “spring offensive” even as the government in Kabul tries to bring them back to the negotiating table to end the drawn-out conflict.

Shir Aziz Kamawal, a police commander in charge of Kunduz province, confirmed that fighting had taken place in six districts Friday, saying the insurgents had “failed” but that fighting was ongoing.

A Taliban spokesperson said security forces had “fled” the districts. The insurgents are known to regularly exaggerate their battlefield claims.

The annual spring offensive normally marks the start of the “fighting season”, though this winter the lull was shorter and the Taliban continued to battle government forces albeit with less intensity.

The Taliban’s resurgence has raised serious questions about Afghan forces’ capacity to hold their own, with an estimated 5,000 troops killed last year, the worst ever toll.

Peace talks which began last summer were abruptly halted after it was revealed that Taliban leader Mullah Omar had been dead for two years.

A four-country group comprising Afghanistan, the United States, China and Pakistan has been holding meetings since January aimed at jump-starting negotiations, though their efforts have so far been in vain.