TALIBAN militants have captured a district near Kabul as part of their bloodthirsty spring offensive – months before the US is scheduled to leave Afghanistan.
The extremists killed or captured some government soldiers and forced others to retreat after storming the area, which lies in Wardak province less than an hour's drive from the capital.
Government forces have been struggling against stepped-up attacks by the insurgents as American troops withdraw after two decades of fighting in the country.
Wardak mayor Zarifa Ghafari said that if the district was not retaken soon, fighting would reach the gates of Kabul in a few days.
The defence ministry said today special forces have been deployed in the area to retake the district after troops made a "tactical retreat" on Tuesday.
A senior government official said they aimed to regain control before a three-day ceasefire announced by the Taliban for the Muslim religious holiday of Eid, which starts tomorrow.
"We will have to do it today because after the ceasefire, it will give the Taliban enough time to dig in and will complicate the operations and increase our casualties," the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
The government carried out air strikes at the start of the operation, the defence ministry said.
CASUALTIES OF WAR
America's operations in Afghanistan - launched after the 9/11 attacks - have come at great cost.
19: Years since war against al-Qaeda and the Taliban started in October 2001.
2,305: Number of US personnel who have died in Afghanistan since 2001.
20,320: Number of US personnel wounded in action.
110,000: Total number of US troops in Afghanistan at the height of deployment in 2011.
$778bn: Total US military expenditure in Afghanistan from 2001 to 2019. Another $44bn has gone on reconstruction projects.
Taliban insurgents have maintained a strong presence in Wardak and nearby Logar province to the south over the years.
Afghan officials say the group have used the provinces as launchpads for hit-and-run attacks and suicide bombings on Kabul.
The Taliban has staged a months-long campaign to expand its influence across the country as the United States has begun withdrawing troops from May 1 and closed some bases in keeping with a peace deal it signed with the hardline group last year.
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Officials say since Washington announced plans last month to pull out all troops by September 11, the Taliban have stepped up attacks.
Critics of the decision to withdraw say the Islamist militants will try to sweep back into power.
US-led forces ousted the Taliban from power in late 2001 for sheltering the al-Qaeda militants involved in the September 11 attacks on New York and Washington DC.