Taliban takes over a district in northern Afghanistan

The Taliban have overrun a district in Afghanistan's northern province of Baghlan, officials said on Wednesday.

Burka district was taken over by the militants on Tuesday night after fighting between the security forces and the Taliban, provincial council member Bismillah Atash said.

Vast areas of the district had already been under Taliban control for years before they now took over its centre, Atash said.

In the meantime, police spokesman Jawid Basharat said that the security forces have "tactically" withdrawn from the district, but efforts were under way to "retake the district."

The Taliban have said that following the capture of the district the militants have seized a large number of munitions and equipment from the forces.

The incident followed a day after the militants attacked a base of the national army in another district of the same province, Baghlan-e Markazi, killing at least nine soldiers, according to officials.

Baghlan has for many years been one of the most volatile provinces in the north of the country, where the Taliban have consolidated their presence over the years.

Over the past few days, the Taliban have intensified attacks on provincial capitals, district centres, and larger security bases following the drawdown of international forces in Afghanistan that started on 1 May.

Since then, local officials have reported heavy clashes between Afghan forces and the militants in the capitals of Helmand, Ghazni, and Zabul provinces.

On Wednesday, officials said the Afghan forces have stopped Taliban progress in the city of Lashkargah in Helmand and they were trying to retake the fallen areas.

The Afghan army has been conducting large-scale ground and aerial operations in parts of the province for days now, local councillor Ataullah Afghan and a Helmand parliamentarian Ghulam Wali Afghan said.

Two local officials said the situation in Ghazni was back to normal due to manoeuvres by government forces, but a security base that was captured in the past few days was still under the Taliban's control.

Two local officials said there was no Taliban attack on Qalat city and the government forces had an upper hand in the provincial capital, while one said the situation is still tense. Observers had feared a deterioration in the security situation in Afghanistan around 1 May and thereafter. The date marks the official start of the withdrawal of international troops from Afghanistan. Many see the time now as a test of whether the Afghan security forces, who have been trained for years by US and NATO troops and supported by them in combat, are able to defend the government on their own.

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