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Taliban launch major assault on northeast Afghan district

The Taliban spring offensive has revved up, with parts of Afghanistan's northeastern Badakhshan province threatening to fall under the control of militants. The violent campaign threatens to spill over into other areas.

Hundreds of Taliban fighters were reported to have launched a major assault on a remote district in Afghanistan's northeastern Badakhshan province at dawn on Saturday. Various media reports could not confirm whether the district had fallen under Taliban control.

An anonymous provincial government official told the DPA news agency that local security forces had fled, allowing Taliban militants to seize Yamgan district. The Taliban confirmed that their fighters had captured the centre of the district.

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid claimed responsibility for the attack, saying militants overran the district headquarters. But Laal Mohammad Ahmadzai, spokesman for the provincial police chief in Badakhshan, said that an intense battle continued to rage on, denying claims that the insurgents had taken over the district's headquarters.

Local police have reportedly asked for reinforcements to be flown in. Deputy provincial police chief Sakhi Dad Haidari said that Yamgan district was part of a mountainous region, with no road leading in or out of it. He added that the fighters had seized most of the district.

"We have asked for backup and air attack in the district," he said.

Some 300 Taliban insurgents were seen to target the Yamgan district, entering the district by attacking strategic security checkpoints.

The Taliban's annual spring offensive started in April, the first since US and

NATO forces ended their combat mission

in the country at the end of last year.

Meanwhile, on Friday, a roadside bomb killed seven family members on their way to a wedding. The attack bore the hallmarks of Taliban insurgents.

The violence also spread over to neighboring Pakistan, were gunmen killed four policemen in the province of Baluchistan. The assailants escaped after the attack. It remains unclear whether this attack was carried out by the Taliban or local nationalists.

The two countries have agreed to cooperate

in their fight against the ongoing insurgency.

ss/jlw (AP, dpa, PTI)

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