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Taliban forces launch assault on northern Afghan city of Kunduz

Taliban fighters launched a coordinated assault on Kunduz overnight, approaching the city from four sides and entering the city.

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    An Afghan National Army soldier sits in front of a closed shop in the downtown of Kunduz city, Afghanistan.
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The northern Afghan city of Kunduz is under attack by the Taliban again, just a year after the militant group briefly planted their flag in the city center. 

According to officials, Taliban fighters launched a coordinated attack on the city overnight. Sheer Ali Kamal, commander of the 808 Tandar police zone in Kunduz, told Reuters that fighting continues in and around Kunduz.

The city of Kunduz is the capital of the Kunduz province, which is strategically significant as it borders Tajikistan to the north and sits on a major crossroad in the country. 

The Taliban mounted another attack Monday in the southern province of Helmand, the insurgents' heartland. Helmand is also a strategically important province and the Taliban have been threatening the provincial capital, Lashkar Gah. Most of Afghanistan's opium is produced in that province from poppy fields largely controlled by the Taliban. That opium, worth about $3 billion a year, helps fund the militant group.

Both attacks – in Kunduz and Helmand – were described by officials as coordinated and fierce. Many gunmen attacked from all directions under cover of darkness, they said.

The Kunduz attack comes almost exactly a year after the Taliban seized the city briefly, in September 2015, the first time in the 15-year-insurgency that the militant group had taken a major urban center. A year ago to the day, US-backed Afghan troops battled the Taliban in the same streets where gunfire could be heard Monday.

The fighting forced shops, schools, and government offices to close, Mohammad Yusouf Ayubi, head of the Kunduz provincial council, told the Associated Press. He added that some parts of the city were deserted.

Police spokesman Mahfozullah Akbari told Reuters security forces are readying to drive out the Taliban fighters, but, he said, "The Taliban are inside some civilian houses and we have to carry out operations very carefully."

The spokesman for Afghanistan's NATO-led force, Brigadier General Charles Cleveland, said from Kabul that they were ready to provide support if needed. But, he said in an emailed statement according to Reuters, "At this point, we are not observing evidence via our internal means to support the reports that Kunduz is under significant attack." 

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said in his official Twitter account that the militant group had captured four government checkpoints in Kunduz and that some soldiers had been killed. "A massive operation started on Kunduz capital from four directions early this morning," he said.

Monday's attack comes just ahead of an international aid conference in Brussels, where President Ashraf Ghani expects donors to pledge $3 billion a year to assist Afghanistan, reports the Associated Press.

The overnight attacks come as the Taliban have been increasing fighting across Afghanistan. In addition to the attacks in Kunduz and Helmand, heavy fighting continued along the main road to the capital of the southern province of Uruzgan, Tarin Kot.

This report contains material from the Associated Press and Reuters.

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