A coordinated attack by Taliban militants has led to heavy fighting in Kunduz, the capital of Afghanistan's northern Kunduz province. It is the third bid by the Taliban this year to capture territory in the city.
Taliban fighters launched a three-pronged attack on Kunduz city early on Monday morning, triggering fierce clashes between the militants and government forces, police said.
"Kunduz city came under attack from several directions this morning, with Taliban using city streets as launch pads for their operation," Kunduz provincial police spokesman Sayed Sarwar Hussaini said.
He said government troops had repelled the attackers from some areas, but that fighting was still continuing at main entrances to the city, including the wealthy district of Imam Sahib.
He said some 20 insurgents had been killed, and that there had also been an unknown number of casualties among security forces.
There have been conflicting reports on Taliban advances into the city, with some officials saying the insurgents had entered a 200-bed public hospital and burnt buildings, while others said they had been pushed back from the city after initially taking two police checkpoints.
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Majahid also claimed on Twitter that rebel fighters had taken over the hospital and government buildings, adding that they were, however, trying to avoid harm to civilian residents.
He urged residents to "stay indoors until the battle is over."
The assault is the second time this year that Taliban militants have tried to take territory inside the city. In April, Kunduz city was the center of fierce fighting as the insurgents tried to make territorial gains after NATO's combat mission ended last year.
Kunduz city and the surrounding province, once relatively quiet, have experienced escalating violence in recent years. This year's summer fighting season has seen the Taliban step up attacks even further, sometimes in conjunction with other insurgents opposed to the Western-backed government in Kabul.
The province is at a strategic crossroads connecting the four points of Afghanistan, and the capture of its capital would be a major milestone in the Taliban's nearly 14-year insurgency, which began after the Islamist group was driven from power by a US-led invasion in late 2001.
Afghan security forces have been left mostly on their own since the NATO withdrawal, although a smaller mission has remained to train and advise them, while US drone attacks still target militant leaders. An American counter-terrorist force is also deployed in the country.
tj/rg (AP, Reuters, AFP)