KABUL, Afghanistan — Afghan forces on Sunday wrested control of a northern district bordering Tajikistan from the Taliban, officials said, two months after its capture stoked fears the jihadists’ violence could spread to Central Asia. The rare positive news for the Afghan military comes as the Taliban are expanding their 14-year-insurgency with an unprecedented winter surge, which analysts suggest is aimed at increasing their leverage before planned peace talks. Afghan army, police and special forces units launched a fierce offensive on Friday to recapture Darqad in Takhar province. They defeated the Taliban after two days of intense fighting that left many militants dead or wounded, the defense ministry said in a statement on Sunday.
“The district has been entirely captured by the Afghan forces, the enemy suffering heavy casualties have been defeated,” it said. Some twenty militants and one Afghan soldier had died in two days of fighting, it added. A Takhar provincial spokesman confirmed the news, adding that some militants were hiding in the residential areas of the district.
“A search and clearance operation is ongoing to arrest or kill these militants hiding in people’s houses,” Sonatullah Timor told AFP.
Darqad, located on the banks of the Oxus river on the border with Tajikistan, was captured by the militants in late October in a battle that had left at least six Afghan security force members dead.
Afghan troops and police have been struggling to contain the Taliban insurgency since U.S.-led foreign troops ceased combat operations at the end of 2014.