KUNDUZ, Afghanistan -- Taliban militants have launched a major attack on one of Afghanistan’s largest cities, despite holding talks with the United States aimed at ending the country’s nearly 18-year conflict.
Afghan officials said Taliban militants attacked the strategically important northern city of Kunduz from different directions early on August 31, killing at least 15 people and wounding 75.
The office of Afghan President Ashraf Ghani said Afghan security forces had repelled the attack in some parts of the city, while other officials said that more than 30 militants had been killed.
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid in a Twitter post called the attack "large-scale," while the police spokesman in Kunduz Province reportedly said the attack was "massive" and involved "intense" battles.
Provincial council member Ghulam Rabani Rabani told AP that after Afghan security forces had tried for hours to push the militants from the center of Kunduz, a suicide bomber struck at the city's main intersection. The news agency quoted Interior Ministry spokesman Nasrat Rahimi as saying 10 people were killed and five wounded in the attack.
Presidential spokesman Sediq Seddiqi told reporters the attack was "completely against the peace talks" taking place between the United States and the Taliban. Expectations that a breakthrough in the talks might lead to a peace deal, including a timetable for the withdrawal of thousands of U.S. troops, had been on the rise.
The U.S. special representative for Afghanistan reconciliation, Zalmay Khalilzad, who is involved in the negotiations, tweeted that he had "raised the Kunduz attack in talks today, telling the Taliban that violence like this must stop."
Khalilzad added that General Scott Miller, who commands U.S. forces in Afghanistan, had arrived in Kunduz to assist Afghan forces in defending the city.
In a separate tweet, Khalilzad said that "ultimately, war will only end when all sides agree it must end." But he added that "I am confident we are on the only practical path to reducing violence and achieving peace."
Despite the violence, Khalilzad on September 1 tweeted again, saying that U.S. and Taliban negotiators are "at the threshold of an agreement" as they concluded their latest round of talks.
"We are at the threshold of an agreement that will reduce violence and open the door for Afghans to sit together to negotiate an honorable and sustainable peace," he wrote.
He added that he would be traveling to Kabul later in the day to consult with government officials there.
Kunduz briefly fell to the Taliban in 2015 and has come under attack several times since then.
Pockets of fighting were reported in parts of the city, and a provincial council member, Ghulam Rabani Rabani, told the AP news agency that Taliban militants had control of the city hospital.
The militants took hospital patients as hostages, Defense Ministry spokesman Rohullah Ahmadzai told reporters in Kabul. He did not say how many.
"We could very easily attack, but we don't want civilian casualties," he said.
The Afghan Interior Ministry said at least 34 Taliban fighters were killed in ground and air operations in three areas of Kunduz city and clearance operations were under way.
Electricity and most telephone services were cut, and residents were sheltering in their houses, making it difficult to gain a complete picture of the fighting.
"There is no water and electricity. There is nothing. The situation in Kunduz is very worrying,” one local man, Shah Rasool, told RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan.
U.S. President Donald Trump said on August 30 that the United States had good negotiations going on with the Taliban but had not yet reached a deal.
A day earlier, Trump said that the United States will continue to maintain a force in Afghanistan even after any deal is agreed.
The Taliban has long demanded a complete pullout of all foreign forces from the country.
About 20,000 foreign troops, most of them American, are now in Afghanistan as part of a U.S.-led NATO mission to train, assist, and advise Afghan forces. Some U.S. forces carry out counterterrorism operations.