Afghan forces repel Taliban assault on provincial capital, governor says

·2 min read
Armed Afghan militias patrol on the outskirts of Takhar province

KABUL/MUMBAI (Reuters) -Afghan security forces, with the help of air strikes, repelled an assault by Taliban fighters on the provincial centre of a key northern province bordering Tajikistan on Sunday, officials said.

The Taliban assault was the latest in a string of offensives that has seen insurgents capture territory across Afghanistan as U.S.-led foreign forces are in the final stages of withdrawing troops after almost 20 years of fighting.

"The enemy's offensive attacks were repelled, and they suffered heavy and unprecedented casualties, as a result of which 55 enemy soldiers were killed and 90 were wounded," the governor of Takhar province Abdullah Qarluq said.

Reuters could not independently confirm his account.

More than a dozen Taliban fighters were killed in air strikes by the Afghan Air Force on hideouts on the outskirts of Takhar's provincial center, Taluqan, Afghanistan's defence ministry said on Twitter.

"The Taliban attacked Taluqan from four directions last night (Saturday), but were faced with strong resistance from security forces and (local) people," Khalil Asir, spokesman for Takhar Police Command, told Reuters.

Taluqan is just the latest provincial capital to come under Taliban pressure. Earlier this week Taliban fighters entered the capital of the western province of Badghis, seizing police and security facilities and attempting to take over the governor's office before special forces pushed them back.

Insurgents have made a fresh push to gain territory in recent weeks, emboldened by the departure of foreign forces. The Pentagon believes that after taking dozens of district centres, the Taliban will make a push for provincial centres.

In southern Afghanistan, too, clashes continued.

India said on Sunday it had temporarily repatriated officials from its consulate in Kandahar, a major city in southern Afghanistan.

"Due to the intense fighting near Kandahar city, India-based personnel have been brought back for the time being," Arindam Bagchi, chief spokesperson at India's foreign ministry, said in a statement.

"India is closely monitoring the evolving security situation in Afghanistan," Bagchi said, adding that India's consulate in Kandahar was being run by local staff temporarily.

Taliban officials said on Friday that the Sunni Muslim insurgent group had taken control of 85% of Afghanistan's territory. Afghan government officials dismissed the assertion as propaganda.

(Reporting by Kabul newsroom, Abhirup Roy and C.K. Nayak; Editing by William Mallard and Daniel Wallis)

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