Afghan officials say the Taliban have captured a strategic district some 40 kilometers from Kabul, ahead of a three-day cease-fire agreed for later this week and amid the ongoing withdrawal of U.S. and international forces from the war-torn country.
Special forces were deployed in the area on May 12 to win back the Nerkh district after troops made a "tactical retreat," the Defense Ministry said, adding that the government carried out air strikes at the start of the operation.
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said the group had captured the area the previous day, and that the insurgents seized the police headquarters and an army base.
Several important highways to the country’s central and southern provinces go through Nerkh district, located in Maidan Wardak Province, west of Kabul.
Large swathes of Maidan Wardak and neighboring Logar Province have been controlled or contested for years by the Taliban and have long been used by insurgents as gateways to reach the capital and launch attacks.
The capture of Nerkh comes after the Taliban and the Afghan government declared a cease-fire during the religious holiday of Eid al-Fitr marking the end of Ramadan.
The holiday will begin on May 12 or 13, depending on the sighting of the new moon.
Fighting has been soaring across the country ahead of a planned pullout of remaining U.S. and international forces by September 11, with Taliban fighters last week taking control of a district in the northern province of Baghlan last week.
On May 11, the U.S. military's Central Command, or Centcom, estimated that it had completed up to 12 percent of the "retrograde process" -- a technical term used by the military to describe a withdrawal of forces and equipment.
It also announced that a base in the southern province of Helmand has been turned over to Afghan forces.
U.S. generals and other officials expressing concerns in recent weeks that it might lead to the collapse of the Afghan government in the absence of progress on stalled peace talks with the Taliban.