Taliban take Afghan district north of Kabul as fighting surges

Taliban militants captured a key district about 100 miles north of Afghanistan’s capital, which itself was hit by a bombing on Monday, a blow to the government in Kabul that’s coming under further pressure from a renewed surge in fighting.

Following days of heavy clashes with Afghan security forces, the Dahan-I-Ghori district in northern Baghlan province came under Taliban control, said Mahmood Haqmal, a spokesman for the province. Soon after its capture, the militants set some shops and fields ablaze, Haqmal said by phone on Monday. Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahed also confirmed the takeover in an e-mailed statement.

“Afghan forces have retreated from the area,” Haqmal said. Fighting is underway to push the insurgents back and reinforcements are being deployed there, he said. The capture of the district adds to the risk that the province’s neighboring capital, Puli Khumri, will also fall to the militants.

The increasingly bloody conflict against the Taliban, now in its 15th year, forced U.S. President Barack Obama last month to slow troop withdrawal plans. The war has cost the U.S. more than $700 billion and killed more than 2,300 American soldiers.

Kabul Bombing

In Kabul, three people including an Afghan solider were wounded when a car bomb was detonated at about 9 a.m. local time near the U.S. embassy, Basir Mujahed, a police spokesman, said by phone. The capital has been hit by explosions and gun-battles in past few weeks, the most recent on Aug. 1 hitting the city’s Northgate Hotel, where international contractors stay.

The Afghan military is also under pressure in southern Helmand province, with the capital Lashkar Gah under siege and surrounded by Taliban fighters, Omar Zowak, a local government spokesman said.

The situation in Helmand is “very worrying,” Zowak said by phone. Taliban fighters have been fighting for days and don’t retreat, he said, without sharing casualty figures.

Troop Withdrawal

Insurgents control at least 36 of Afghanistan’s 407 districts and a further 104 are at risk of capture, according to a report last month by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction. The Taliban-controlled districts are mostly in the remote southern regions.

With Afghan government forces struggling to take and keep territory from the Taliban, Obama slowed plans to withdraw American troops, with about 8,400 U.S. military personnel set to remain in the country at the end of the year.

White House officials told reporters last month that a resolution will require the Taliban and Afghan government to negotiate a truce, an outcome they acknowledged is complicated by the Taliban’s reluctance to engage in talks.


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