Sat May 6, 2017 10:29AM
This photo, taken on June 22, 2015, shows Afghan security personnel standing guard in the Chardara district of Kunduz Province, Afghanistan. (By AFP)
This photo, taken on June 22, 2015, shows Afghan security personnel standing guard in the Chardara district of Kunduz Province, Afghanistan. (By AFP)

Taliban militants have seized control of a district near the Afghan city of Kunduz after a day of heavy clashes with security forces there.

Police sources said the Qala-e-Zal district just outside Kunduz fell to the militants on Saturday morning after Afghan security forces pulled out of the district to avoid further civilian and military casualties in the heavy fighting.

Zabihullah Mujahid, a spokesman for the Taliban, said in a statement that the group had taken control of police headquarters, the governor’s compound, and all security checkpoints in the district.

The spokesman also claimed that several Afghan police forces and soldiers had been killed and wounded in the clashes.

Taliban militants have twice overrun Kunduz’s center for brief periods over the past 18 months. Their capture of Qala-e-Zal district on Saturday may be a sign of renewed activity to attack the city for a third time.

The Taliban increase their attacks across Afghanistan every spring, targeting government officials and the US-led foreign forces in the country, with many ordinary people also often falling victim to the attacks.

The militant group formally launched this year’s annual spring offensive last week, and heavy clashes are already underway from the northern province of Badakhshan to Helmand and Kandahar in the south.

More than 1,000 members of Afghan security forces as well as over 700 civilians have lost their lives since the start of the year, according to Afghan officials and figures cited by the US Congressional watchdog Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR).

Some 75,000 people have also been forced to flee their homes in the first four months of the year, according to United Nations figures.

Security remains elusive in Afghanistan almost 16 years into a US-led invasion and occupation of the country. A Taliban regime that had been in power then was toppled in the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan. Members of the group started their militancy then.