Afghan forces clash with Taliban near capital

Afghan forces clash with Taliban near capital

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Officials and witnesses said the Afghan army clashed with Taliban militants in the provincial capital about 120 kilometers (75 miles) from Kabul, prompting the Minister of Defense to take charge of the counterattack.

Since the U.S. military began its final withdrawal on May 1, violence has soared in Afghanistan as the insurgents continue to take action to seize new territories.

Later on Sunday, fierce fighting broke out on the fringe of Mihtarlam. Mihararan is a city with a population of 140,000 and the capital of Laghman Province.

Officials said that Defense Minister Yassin Zia was once in charge on the ground.

“With the arrival of reinforcements, the enemy has sustained heavy blows,” Zia, a former army chief of staff, said in a video message.

The ministry said at least 50 Taliban fighters were killed in overnight fighting.

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid told AFP the insurgents captured 37 security checkpoints on the outskirts of the city.

Casualty figures and battlefield gains can rarely be independently verified in Afghanistan and both sides frequently exaggerate their successes and minimise losses.

An AFP correspondent reported fighting continuing in some parts of Mihtarlam on Monday, adding that hundreds of people had been displaced.

A student from Mihtarlam, who gave just his first name Zabihullah, said he went to school after government forces assured him they had control, but had to flee when fighting resumed.

“I m not sure which part of the city is safe now,” he told AFP.

As the Taliban struggled to occupy the new territory, the attack on Mittalam occurred.

In recent days, insurgents have occupied the Nerkh and Jaraíz areas in Wardak province, only 40 kilometers away from Kabul.

Wardak has long been used by militants as a gateway to the capital and launching deadly attacks.

After government forces withdrew from the area, the Taliban also occupied Burka in northern Baghlan Province earlier this month.

The Taliban movement has aroused speculation that militants are waiting for the Americans to complete their evacuation before launching a full-scale attack on Afghan cities.

The intensified fighting around Kabul reminds people of Afghanistan’s civil war after the withdrawal of Soviet troops in the 1990s, when jihadist militias strangled the main route to the capital and put pressure on security forces until the government collapsed.

“The towns and cities the Taliban have targeted are of strategic importance given their proximity to Kabul as some are on supply roads to the capital,” said Kabul-based security analyst Bari Arez.

“The setbacks suffered by Afghan forces also indicate that they had not expected such Taliban offensives so soon” after the US military started the final withdrawal, he added.

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