The Taliban militant group has captured a key district in Afghanistan’s central province of Wardak, despite the announcement of a three-day ceasefire for the Eid al-Fitr holiday.
The militants seized the Nerkh district, located around 40 kilometers from the Afghan capital, Kabul, on Tuesday, pushing government forces out.
Afghan Interior Ministry spokesman Tariq Arian said on Wednesday that security and defense forces had made “a tactical retreat” from the district center, after a heavy firefight with the Taliban militants.
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid claimed in a post on Twitter that the militants had killed and captured some members of the Afghan security forces, adding that they had seized the police headquarters and an army base in the district, as well as a large cache of ammunition.
The Afghan Ministry of Defense said on Wednesday that it would launch an offensive to win back the district, which is home to more than 60,000 people.
“Commando reinforcements are on their way,” Fawad Aman, a spokesman for the Afghan Defense Ministry, said.
The seizure of Nerkh, which has long been used by the militants as a gateway to reach Kabul and launch deadly attacks, comes amid a surge in violence in war-ravaged Afghanistan. The country has witnessed a sharp increase in civilian deaths due to rising terrorist attacks over the recent months.
The United States was supposed to pull all its forces out of Afghanistan by May 1 as agreed with the Taliban last year, but Washington pushed back the date to September 11.
While the Taliban have avoided engaging American forces, attacks against government and civilian targets have not stopped.
The Taliban, however, have issued a warning, pledging to attack US troops if they failed to withdraw as scheduled.
157 Taliban militants killed in latest military crackdown
Meanwhile, Afghanistan’s Ministry of Defense has announced that Afghan security forces had killed over 150 Taliban militants and wounded scores of others in the latest military clampdowns in different provinces around the country in the past 24 hours.
The Afghan security forces, backed by the country’s Air Force, conducted operations and counter-attacks against Taliban militants in a number of provinces, in which at least 157 militants were killed and 99 others wounded, the ministry said in a statement on Tuesday.
The Afghan security forces have also arrested 26 Taliban militants, the statement added.
According to the statement, 95 rounds of mines planted by the Taliban to target civilians and security forces were also discovered and defused, and huge amounts of weapons and ammunition were destroyed as well.