The Taliban have launched two co-ordinated assaults at opposite ends of Afghanistan, attacking the northern city of Kunduz from several directions and killing a police chief in Helmand in the south.
Officials in both areas described fierce, well-planned operations involving a large number of gunmen who attacked under the cover of darkness. Elsewhere in Afghanistan, attacks on civilians and soldiers claimed at least seven more lives on Monday.
The attacks came as President Ashraf Ghani prepared to head to Brussels for a key international aid conference this week, where he expects donors to pledge £2.3bn a year in assistance for his impoverished, war-torn nation.
The Kunduz attack came a year after the insurgents took control of the city and held off Afghan security forces, backed by US troops and air power, for several days.
Residents and officials said the fighters attacked from all directions in Monday’s assault. Mahmood Danish, spokesman for the Kunduz provincial governor, said security forces managed to keep them at bay.
The Interior Ministry said a policeman was killed and four were injured in the ongoing fighting. A ministry statement said the situation is being monitored in case reinforcements are needed.
Kunduz is the capital of the strategically important Kunduz province, a region that borders Tajikistan to the north and sits on a major crossroad in the country.
The city was overrun by the Taliban in September 2015, the first time the militant group had taken a major urban centre since launching the insurgency 15 years ago. Kunduz came under threat again in April, when Afghan forces aided by US troops and air power pushed the Taliban back into the surrounding districts.
In Monday’s attack, the Taliban used residential areas in Kunduz and Afghan “security forces are being very careful to avoid civilian casualties while shooting back at the enemy”, said Mr Danish. The Afghan air force is also supporting the ground forces in the fight, he added.
The US military spokesman in Afghanistan, Brig Gen Charles Cleveland, said the Kunduz situation is being monitored but the international alliance is not seeing evidence “to support the reports that Kunduz is under significant attack”.
Mohammad Yusouf Ayubi, head of the Kunduz provincial council, said the heavy battles had forced government offices, schools and shops in Kunduz to close. He said parts of the city are empty and roads south towards Baghlan and east to Takhar provinces are also shut amid clashes on both sides of the city.
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid claimed the insurgents have captured several checkpoints in the city.
In Helmand, where most of Afghanistan’s opium is produced from poppy fields effectively controlled by the Taliban, insurgents attacked a police headquarters in Naway district, killing the local police chief.
Afzel Khan, a policeman who survived the attack, said a suicide car bomber hit the compound around 2.30am local time, blasting through the gate and allowing gunmen inside.
Provincial spokesman Omar Zwak said police chief Ahmad Shah Khan was killed. He could not confirm other casualties and denied the district had fallen to the Taliban.