ASADABAD, Afghanistan (Reuters) - Taliban fighters killed at least five Afghan soldiers in a three-day offensive in a region near Pakistan, officials said on Tuesday, as fighting heats up on both sides of the border during the withdrawal of most foreign troops from Afghanistan.
Fighters from both Pakistan and Afghanistan mounted the attack aimed at taking control of Kunar province’s remote Dangam district, which is on the border, provincial governor Shuja-ul Mulk Jalala told Reuters.
“The fighting is intense and we have asked for additional forces but they haven’t arrived yet,” the governor said, adding that five Afghan soldiers and 18 Taliban fighters had been killed so far. An army officer said 40 Taliban had been killed.
Dangam is about 70 miles (110 km) from Peshawar. There was no sign the fighting was directly linked to Tuesday’s Taliban assault on a school in the Pakistani city, but a wave of attacks has highlighted the militants’ strength.
Strongholds of the Taliban and other Islamist militants are under pressure from the Pakistani and Afghan armies as well as U.S. drone strikes, coinciding with the withdrawal of all but 12,500 foreign forces from Afghanistan by the end of the year.
But the militants have struck back, unleashing waves of suicide bombers and commando style attacks in Kabul and across Afghanistan, making 2014 the bloodiest year since the war started 13 years earlier.
The battle in Dangam began on Sunday when militants attacked Afghan security outposts and local villagers who defied Taliban rule in their areas last month, Jalala said.
He said the fighters were mostly from Pakistan’s faction of the Taliban. Jalala and a local police chief said as many as 2,000 militants were involved. The numbers could not be independently verified.
Local officials sometimes inflate Taliban attacks to lobby for more reinforcements, however the Taliban this summer mounted assaults across several provinces in Afghanistan, often involving dozens of fighters.
The Taliban have focused on growing in strategic areas containing border crossings or highways that facilitate the movement of opium and weapons.
For years, Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) or Pakistani Taliban, have hidden in remote areas of Kunar and Nuristan, provinces that share long border with lawless areas in Pakistan. Afghanistan and Pakistan accuse each other of harboring insurgents.
Additional reporting by Mirwais Harooni; Writing by Hamid Shalizi; Editing by Frank Jack Daniel and Alison Williams