Afghan forces retake district near northern city of Kunduz

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KABUL (Reuters) - Afghan security forces have regained control of a district center close to the northern city of Kunduz that fell to Taliban insurgents earlier this month, officials said on Tuesday.

A statement from the interior ministry said security forces had launched their operation to retake Qala-i-Zal, a district to the northwest of Kunduz, on Tuesday morning and had secured the district governor’s office, police headquarters and other areas.

“Right now, a massive operation in insecure areas of Qala-i-Zal is ongoing,” it said. “Afghan security forces will not let Taliban insurgents rule our people in any part of the country.”

The defense ministry said one insurgent had been killed in the operation. There was no word on any casualties among security forces.

Taliban fighters seized Qala-i-Zal, on the border with Tajikistan, on May 6 as they stepped up pressure on Kunduz at the start of their annual spring offensive.

Fighting has been going on all around Kunduz, with security forces struggling to open the main highway into the city after it was blocked with mines and improvised roadside bombs.

Although the city center itself is in government hands, the Taliban control most of the surrounding districts and thousands of residents are reported to have fled their homes to avoid the fighting.

Kunduz has been one of the Taliban’s main targets ever since international troops largely ended their combat mission in Afghanistan in 2014. Over the past two years, the insurgents have twice managed to seize the city center for brief periods before being driven off after days of fighting and air strikes.

According to U.S. estimates, the government controls only about 60 percent of the country with the rest either under Taliban control or contested by the insurgents.

Reporting by Mirwais Harooni; Writing by James Mackenzie; Editing by Paul Tait