Dozens of Taliban fighters were killed in fierce overnight fighting between Afghan forces and militants who attacked several checkpoints in Kandahar’s rebel bastion, officials said on Sunday.
Taliban militants attacked checkpoints in five districts surrounding the city of Kandahar, which Afghan forces countered with heavy air and ground strikes, the defense ministry said in a statement.
“Security forces repulsed the attack, killing 51 terrorists and wounding nine,” the ministry said without giving details of any deaths among government forces.
Seven members of a family were also killed in an Afghan airstrike in one of the districts, a local official told AFP on condition of anonymity.
“The Afghan air force wanted to target a car loaded with explosives … when they hit the car, it exploded and caused civilian deaths,” he said.
The Ministry of Defense said it was investigating the incident.
The fighting lasted for several hours through the night, marked by continuous gun battles and heavy bombings, reported an AFP correspondent from Kandahar.
When contacted, the Taliban did not immediately comment.
The southern province of Kandahar is the birthplace of the hardline Islamist movement, and in recent weeks militants have launched attacks in districts on the outskirts of the city of Kandahar, the provincial capital.
Tens of thousands of civilians fled
The Taliban launched a similar offensive in neighboring Helmand province in September, sending tens of thousands of refugees into exile.
The attack, which also targeted Lashkar Gah’s provincial capital, called on the United States to call for air strikes to defend Afghan forces.
Since an agreement between the United States and the Taliban in February, the insurgency has not carried out major attacks on important cities but has attacked Afghan forces in the countryside almost daily.
The escalation of violence in recent months comes as the Taliban and the Afghan government take part in peace talks.
Negotiations began on September 12 in the Qatari capital Doha, but on Saturday both sides announced a break until January 5.
The insurgents and the government side both tweeted that they had exchanged “preliminary lists of items on the agenda for the inter-Afghan talks and held initial discussions on the topics” to be covered when the meetings restart.
In recent months, Kabul has seen several deadly attacks claimed by the jihadist Islamic group, including a rocket attack on Saturday that killed a civilian.
On Sunday, a bomb planted on a vehicle killed two civilians in the capital, police said.