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Afghan Forces Recapture District From Taliban

Afghan security forces conduct security checks in Kunduz. The Taliban's brief seizure of the province's Khanabad district has raised fears that the militant group could launch a full-scale assault on Kunduz city, which they briefly overran last year. (file photo)

Afghan forces have retaken a district in the northeastern Kunduz Province that had been seized earlier by Taliban forces.

Kunduz Province Governor Asadullah Omarkhil told RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan from the city of Kunduz on the evening of August 20 that the strategic district had "been completely retaken [by Afghan security forces]" and that the Afghan flag was now flying again over the main district building.

"There are both local Taliban fighters as well as foreign [fighters] such as Chechens and Uzbeks [fighting against Afghan forces]," Omarkhil said. "Their leadership is mainly in the hands of members of Pakistan's [Inter-Services Intelligence agency]."

The fall and recapture of Khanabad district -- some 30 kilometers east of Kunduz city --on August 20 occurred over a period of several hours.

In the early morning of August 20, Taliban forces forced Afghan troops to retreat to the provincial capital, Kunduz, which was briefly overrun by insurgents last year.

"The Taliban attacked the district from different positions and we resisted for hours but we received no support -- the district fell to the Taliban," said Hayatullah Amiri, Khanabad's chief official.

The Khanabad district's governor, Hayatullah Amiri, told the AFP news agency that calls to the provincial governor for reinforcements were ignored.

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said the Taliban took military vehicles and weapons when it seized the district. It is unclear if Afghan forces recovered that hardware when they recaptured Khanabad.

Kunduz is one of the most volatile provinces in Afghanistan's northern region.

The insurgents were also threatening areas near the provincial capital, Kunduz, on August 20.

According to police officials, militants staged attacks in Kunduz’s Alibad district, but Afghan security forces were stil in control there.

Mohammad Yusouf Ayubi, the head of the Kunduz provincial council, said that hundreds of civilians have escaped the fighting, warning that "if the central government does not pay attention to Kunduz, the Taliban will overrun Kunduz city as they did last year."

Khanabad resident Abdul Satar told AFP that people have left their homes and their shops, adding that the roads to neighboring provinces were closed.

Afghan officials said some reinforcements were being sent to the region.

Major General Zmarai Paikan, the commander of Afghanistan's Civil Order Police, said that "various forces, such as units from the Afghan Defense Ministry, commandos, and rapid reaction forces have arrived in Kunduz."

"God willing, we will also be able to rely on airborne support from NATO's Resolute Support Mission [forces], whose command has assured us to provide assistance to our forces in the defense of Kunduz."

A resident of Kunduz named Jan said things looked grim.

"The situation in Kunduz is really critical. All the district roads are blocked and people are getting killed, but the government does not care about the situation here."

Just five days earlier, the Taliban captured a district in neighboring Baghlan Province, taking government forces' ammunition and vehicles.

Heavy fighting is also underway in the southern Helmand and eastern Nangarhar provinces.

Afghan security forces are fighting the Taliban in at least 15 out of its 34 provinces, according to the Defense Ministry.

The Taliban’s capture of Kunduz’s provincial capital in September 2015 was their biggest victory in 14 years, marking the first time since 2001 that the militant group had captured a major city in Afghanistan.

Afghan forces backed by U.S. aircraft and NATO soldiers drove out the militants after two weeks.

With reporting by AP, dpa, and Reuters