Heavy fighting in northern Afghanistan

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Afghanistan's opposition alliance attacked a key northern district in heavy overnight fighting which killed several people on each side, an opposition spokesman said.

The Taliban controls more than 90 per cent of Afghan territory. But the northern–based opposition alliance has stepped up its offensives in the days since the terror attacks in the United States and the death of its leader, Ahmed Shah Massood, from wounds suffered in a suicide bombing.

The United States has stepped up contacts with the opposition alliance in recent days in preparation for a possible assault on the Taliban.

Opposition spokesman Mohammed Ashraf Nadeem said that in the latest fighting there had been exchanges of artillery and rockets in the northern Taliban–controlled district of Aq Kupruk.

He said his alliance was attempting to capture the district and that the Taliban sent in fresh troops and have managed to hold on to their position.

Yesterday, the opposition claimed to have captured a key district of Balkh province and to have killed at least 80 Taliban militia fighters. Gen. Abdul Rasheed Dostum, chief of the Jumbish–e–Milli opposition group, said in a telephone interview that at least 200 Taliban fighters were captured and that his side had two men injured.

A Taliban official in Kabul confirmed the fighting but insisted the opposition alliance had made no gains in the region during clashes about 185 miles northwest of the Afghan capital. The official spoke on condition of anonymity.

It was not possible to independently confirm the claims of either side since all of Afghanistan's neighbours have closed their borders at the request of the United States, and nearly all foreign officials, including UN and international aid workers, have left the country.