KABUL — Taliban guerrillas seized a district controlled by the Afghan government in northern Kunduz province on Saturday, cutting off access to two key highways leading to the provincial capital that the militants overran for a short period last year, officials said.
The capture of the Khan Abad district, about a half-hour drive from the provincial capital, Kunduz city, comes after days of clashes in which the insurgents took territory both in Kunduz and adjacent Baghlan province.
The latest Taliban gains in the north, far from its traditional power base, come amid a growing dispute between Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah over who will lead the national unity government.
The clashes have also damaged power lines that supply electricity from neighboring Tajikistan to Kunduz and several other parts of the country, including Kabul, causing service interruptions, residents said.
“The Taliban began the attack at 4 a.m. and by 9 o’clock captured Khan Abad district as well as a strategic high ground there,” Kamal Safi, a lawmaker from Kunduz, said by phone.
Mohammad Yousuf Ayoubi, head of the provincial capital, said hundreds of people have been forced to abandon their homes in Khan Abad and elsewhere in Kunduz because of the recent wave of fighting.
A spokesman for the Taliban, Zabiullah Mujahid, said the militants seized “weapons and vehicles from fleeing government troops” after capturing Khan Abad.
There were no immediate reports on casualties.
Safi said government forces stationed in Khan Abad before its fall requested food, water and other supplies from the government, and its failure to respond may have contributed to the district’s capture.
As the Taliban consolidated its gains in Khan Abad, a separate group of the insurgents clashed with government troops in Ali Abad, a district that connects Kunduz with Baghlan, and also in Dashte Archi, lying on a vital road leading to Tajikistan, officials and residents reported.
Safi said the advances helped the Taliban tighten the net on Kunduz city, which it overran last September in its first major military gain since late 2001 when it fell from power.
The Taliban were pushed out of the city after days of heavy U.S. airstrikes that also targeted a Doctors Without Borders hospital where dozens of patients and staff were killed.
The Taliban advances in the north are the first major victories for the militants since the reported allegiance of a key breakaway faction to its new leader, Haibatullah Akhundzada, who replaced Akhtar Mohammad Mansour.
Mansour was killed in U.S. drone strike in Pakistan in May.