via Agence France-Presse
A new round of fighting erupted in northern Afghanistan on Monday as opposition forces launched a counter-attack against Taliban troops in the northern Salang area, a report here said.
The pre-dawn attack mounted by the forces of opposition commander Ahmad Shah Masood was "very heavy," the Afghan Islamic Press (AIP) reported. "Both sides are using tanks and artillery," the Pakistan-based private news service said putting the combined casualty toll at six dead and eight wounded.
It said the fighting was intense but the frontlines remained "unchanged" and so far the opposition forces had made "no advance." Independent confirmation of the report was not immediately available. Opposition spokesman Suhail Assem accused the Taliban of launching what he called a renewed attack on Monday against Masood's positions to the north of Salang pass.
He said the early morning attack continued for a couple of hours, adding "they attacked our positions with rockets and shells." Taliban troops tried to capture mountaintops overlooking the strategic Salang Tunnel, 120 kilometers (75 miles) north of Kabul but "there was no change in the frontlines and the attack was repulsed," he added.
AIP said the opposition retaliation came three days after an offensive by the ruling Taliban militia in the northern region of the Salang tunnel. Masood's troops attacked the Taliban positions from the hills overlooking the nearby Baghlan province, the report said, adding that the Taliban held Baghlan city and also controlled a road leading to the Salang area.
AIP said the fighting was mainly concentrated in northern Salang area where the Taliban fighters had advanced several kilometers following their offensive on Friday. It said the opposition operation came as the Taliban fighters attempted to consolidate their positions in the area with the ultimate aim of launching an attack on Masood's vital base in the Andaraab valley.
The new round of fighting followed Saturday's Taliban jet attacks on Taloqan, a major opposition stronghold in the northeastern province of Takhar.Oppposition sources said on Sunday the bombing left four civilians dead and two wounded. The Taliban troops, who ousted former president Burhanuddin Rabbani from Kabul four years ago, now control most of the country.