Afghan security forces yesterday repelled a fierce Taliban attack on Kunduz, a strategic city in northern Afghanistan that had briefly fallen to the militants twice in the past, officials said.
Taliban fighters attacked several government posts on the outskirts of the city at around 1:00 am, a defence ministry statement said, triggering fierce fighting.
"With the support of air force their attack was repelled," it said, adding the fighting lasted for several hours.
Both sides have clashed repeatedly in rural areas in recent months, but an attempt to enter a city as large as Kunduz is seen as a serious escalation.
The latest violence follows a declaration by President Ashraf Ghani last week to resume offensive strikes against the insurgents, after a string of brutal attacks. The Taliban responded by vowing to increase assaults against Afghan security forces.
During yesterday's fighting, the insurgents managed to briefly capture an Afghan army post, killing one soldier, but it was quickly retaken by security forces, Hadi Jamal, an army spokesman in northern Afghanistan told AFP.
The defence ministry said 40 Taliban fighters were killed and 50 others wounded in the Kunduz assault.
In a separate incident, a bomb placed on a bicycle detonated near a market in the city, killing two civilians and wounding 18, Kunduz police said.
The Taliban briefly captured Kunduz, a strategic city not far from the Tajikistan border, twice before -- in September 2015 and again a year later. An attempt last year failed.
The latest attack on the city came a day after the Taliban killed at least seven Afghan intelligence personnel with a car bomb in the eastern province of Ghazni.
Last week, gunmen stormed a hospital in Kabul killing 24, including mothers and infants. That attack, which triggered international outrage, was followed by a suicide bombing at a funeral which killed at least 32 mourners.
Meanwhile, the United Nations said Afghan civilian casualties jumped to 380 in April, expressing alarm about a "striking deterioration" in respect for international humanitarian law as the United States withdraws troops and attempts to usher in a peace deal.
Civilian casualties attributed to the Taliban in April rose by a quarter from the same month a year earlier to 208, while casualties attributed to Afghan security forces rose 38% to 172, according to provisional data from the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan.
"I call for a halt to the fighting and for parties to respect humanitarian law that is there to protect civilians," said Deborah Lyons, the UN Secretary-General's Special Representative for Afghanistan.