KUNAR, Afghanistan, (Reuters) – Taliban insurgents overran a remote district in eastern Afghanistan after days of heavy fighting in the area, a provincial police official said on Saturday.
The insurgents hoisted their flag in the district centre, which they also seized briefly last year, after forcing police to retreat, Afghan provincial officials and the Taliban said.
The battle started earlier this week in the Barg-i-Matal district of mountainous Nuristan province, a remote area bordering Pakistan, when hundreds of Taliban fighters stormed the area administrative headquarters, said Qasim Payman, police chief of the province.
“The police force in the area has tactically retreated from the district after days of fighting,” he told Reuters, adding there were no signs of reinforcements despite repeated requests.
Jamaluddin Badar, provincial governor of Nuristan, said Afghan forces had retreated in order to prepare for a counter attack.
“We have lost the district to the Taliban … but will push them back soon,” he said.
Hundreds of armed villagers, known as Lashkar-i-Qaomi (the army of tribes) had joined forces with police, Payman said.
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid confirmed the group now controlled the district after days of heavy fighting. “The Taliban flag is flying high in the district centre and it is a huge victory for our fighters,” he told Reuters by cellphone from an undisclosed location. “Our fighters are still clearing other villages and looking for Afghan police and their supporters.”
Both sides claimed they had forced high casualties on their opponents. Independent verification was impossible.
In July last year, some 300 Taliban militants seized the same district headquarters before being pushed back by Afghan and international troops. The Taliban managed to hold the district for three days then.
In October 2009, Taliban insurgents killed eight American soldiers after storming another remote outpost in the Kamdesh district of Nuristan province.
Since the withdrawal of foreign troops from Kamdesh and Barg-i-Matal districts, Afghan police say the area is under immense threat from insurgents infiltrating from Pakistan.
U.S. forces announced plans to withdraw from the area as part of commander General Stanley McChrystal’s strategy to focus his forces on population centres.
A NATO airstrike, meanwhile, killed a Taliban shadow governor and several of his associates in the relatively peaceful northern Baghlan province last night, the alliance said in a statement.
Afghan security officials confirmed the incident and said several key Taliban commanders were among the dead.
The Taliban have established shadow governments in several parts of Afghanistan.