KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — The Taliban launched multiple attacks in Afghanistan on Tuesday, including on a strategic tunnel in the Hindu Kush mountains that links the capital, Kabul, with the country’s north and south, officials said.
The attacks marked what may be the first uptick in violence since the Muslim holy month of Ramadan ended in early July. Violence typically takes a downturn during Ramadan’s dawn-to-dusk fasting. The Taliban are widely expected to launch a ferocious fight during the height of summer, though Afghan and U.S. military officials have noted that campaign has been slow to start.
In the northern province of Kunduz, local police commander Nabi Ghichi said that hundreds of Taliban gunmen have been attacking the Qalay-i-Zal district since before dawn on Monday and have not yet been completely pushed back. The assaults have been coming in waves, he said, adding that he has only 85 men and little logistical support.
Kunduz has been a particular target of the Taliban for the past year. Last September, they took the provincial capital, also called Kunduz, and held it for three days — the first time the insurgents succeeded in taking control of a major city since their regime was toppled in 2001.
Kunduz was threatened again in April, when the attacks were repelled by Afghan troops working with U.S. forces under new guidelines issued by President Barack Obama, allowing them to work more closely with Afghan offensive operations and utilize more air power.
“Right now, the Taliban insurgents have control of 50 percent of Qalay-i-Zal’s territory,” said Ghichi. It’s one of the six districts of Kunduz province, which borders Tajikistan to the north.
In southern Helmand province, Maiwand Zazay, spokesman for Afghanistan’s 215 Army Corps, said the Taliban attacked Sangin district but were pushed back with the help of Afghan airstrikes.
Sangin has been attacked repeatedly by Taliban militants in the past six months, but they have been unable to take control of the entire district. Helmand grows most of the world’s opium, the raw material of heroin, which helps fund the Taliban insurgency. Much of the fighting in the province is believed aimed at protecting the smuggling routes.
In Parwan province, near Kabul, police commander Mohammad Ayaz said that the Salang Pass tunnel in the Hindu Kush mountains was attacked on Tuesday.
The Soviet-era 2.6 kilometers (1.6 miles) -long tunnel, between Parwan and Baghlan provinces, links the country’s north and south and its closures, sometimes caused by snow avalanches, cause transport chaos.
Ayaz told The Associated Press that intelligence received Monday indicated that the Taliban planned to attack the highway. He said they came up to the tunnel at 10 a.m. on Tuesday, armed with automatic rifles, rocket launchers and machine guns.
After a three-hour battle, the insurgents were pushed back, Ayaz said.
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid told the AP over the phone from an undisclosed location that the attacks are part of the insurgents’ latest offensive, launched in April, and would continue for the next 12 months. Fighting had slowed during Ramadan, he said, because of the heat.
“Now our mujahedeen (holy warriors) are equipped and routine operations have resumed,” he said.
Associated Press writer Karim Sharifi in Kabul, Afghanistan, contributed to this report.