KUNDUZ CITY, Afghanistan - The Afghan army and police on Thursday failed to expel Taliban fighters from the outskirts of a besieged provincial capital as a seventh day of fierce fighting put pressure on national forces struggling largely without US military backup.
The Taliban push is a major test of the Afghan security forces trained by NATO, which ended its combat mission in Afghanistan in December, 13 years after the US-backed military intervention that toppled the hard-line Islamist regime.
The governor of the northern province of Kunduz vowed that the capital, Kunduz city, would not fall to the insurgents, but acknowledged that pushing back the Taliban was proving tough.
"It goes very slowly because we do not want defenseless civilians to suffer," said governor Mohammad Omar Safi.
Four civilians had been wounded, he said, along with 20 Afghan soldiers and police killed and 140 Taliban-allied fighters dead, many of them militants from neighboring Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.
The Taliban, for their part, claimed to have killed 232 Afghan security forces and lost only nine fighters.