Afghan security forces, Taliban clash near Kabul

37 checkpoints captured: insurgents

Afghan forces clashed with Taliban fighters in a provincial capital about 120 km from Kabul, officials and witnesses said, prompting the Defence Minister to take charge of a counter-offensive.

Violence has soared in Afghanistan since U.S. forces began their final pull-out on May 1, as the insurgents press on with a campaign to seize new territory.

Fierce fighting erupted on Sunday on the edge of Mihtarlam, a city of around 1,40,000 people and the capital of Laghman province.

At one point Defence Minister Yasin Zia took personal charge in the field, officials said.

“With the arrival of reinforcements, the enemy has sustained heavy blows,” Gen. Zia, a former Army Chief of Staff, said.

The Ministry said at least 50 Taliban fighters were killed in overnight fighting.

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid told AFP the insurgents captured 37 security checkpoints on the outskirts of the city.

Both sides frequently exaggerate their successes and minimise losses.

Fighting continued in some parts of Mihtarlam on Monday, with hundreds of people displaced.

A student, who gave just his first name Zabihullah, said he went to school after government forces assured him they had control, but had to flee when fighting resumed.

“I’m not sure which part of the city is safe now,” he told AFP.

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