KABUL, Afghanistan — The Taliban launched two large-scale assaults in Afghanistan on Monday, attacking the northern city of Kunduz from several directions and killing a police chief in the southern Helmand province, where they threatened to overrun a district.
Officials described well-planned operations, involving large numbers of gunmen who attacked under cover of darkness. Elsewhere in Afghanistan, attacks on civilians and soldiers claimed at least seven more lives on Monday.
The attacks came as President Ashraf Ghani left for Brussels for an international aid conference, where he expects donors to pledge $3 billion a year through 2020.
The Taliban briefly seized Kunduz city a year ago and held off Afghan security forces, backed by U.S. troops and air power, for several days. Mahmood Danish, spokesman for the Kunduz provincial governor, said security forces managed to fend off Monday's assault.
The Interior Ministry said a policeman was killed and four were wounded in the ongoing fighting. A ministry statement said the situation was being monitored in case reinforcements are needed.
Kunduz province is a breadbasket region that borders Tajikistan to the north and sits on a major crossroad in the country. The fall of the city last year marked the Taliban's first capture of an urban center since the group was driven from power in 2001. Kunduz came under threat again in April, when U.S.-backed Afghan forces pushed the Taliban back into surrounding districts.
The U.S. military spokesman in Afghanistan, Brig. Gen. Charles Cleveland, said the Kunduz situation "remained fluid," with "increased Taliban activity within the area."
"U.S. forces have multiple assets and enablers in the area to provide support," Cleveland said.
Mohammad Yusouf Ayubi, head of the Kunduz provincial council, said the heavy battles had forced government offices, schools and shops to close. He said parts of the city were empty and highways to the south and east were closed.
Some residents claimed the Taliban had taken control of the city, after fighters hoisted their white flag in the main square. But Amruddin Wali, a member of the provincial council, said security forces still control the airport, police headquarters, provincial government offices and the intelligence agency.
"Intense fighting is going on right now at the governor's compound and the NDS (intelligence agency) office," he said.
Defense Ministry spokesman Dawlat Waziri said Afghan forces had launched airstrikes on Taliban positions, and were carrying out offensive operations outside the city.
"I totally reject claims that the Taliban have taken over Kunduz city," he said, adding that the insurgents had captured an area to the west.
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid claimed the insurgents had captured several checkpoints in the city.
Doctors Without Borders had planned a memorial service on Monday for the victims of the U.S. military bombing of their hospital in Kunduz a year ago, during the fighting with the Taliban, but the ceremony was cancelled, the international charity said.
In the southern province of Helmand, insurgents attacked a police headquarters in Naway district, killing the local police chief.
Afzel Khan, a policeman who survived the attack, said a suicide car bomber hit the compound around 2.30 a.m., blasting through the gate and allowing gunmen in afterward.
Provincial spokesman Omar Zwak said police chief Ahmad Shah Khan was killed. Zwak couldn't confirm other casualties and denied the district had fallen to the Taliban.
Other Afghan officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media, said at least 10 policemen were killed in the attack and another 20 wounded. The figures could not be officially confirmed.
Zwak said the Taliban had also attacked Helmand's Nad Ali district, but he had no further details.
Elsewhere on Monday, an Afghan soldier was killed and three were wounded when a bicycle bomb targeted an army vehicle in the capital, said Sadiq Muradi, a Kabul police official. No group immediately claimed responsibility for that bombing.
In the northern Jawzjan province, at least six people were killed and around 45 wounded when a bomb rigged to a motorcycle was detonated by remote control in a busy shopping district, according to Mohammad Reza Ghafori, the provincial governor's spokesman.
Khan reported from Kandahar, Afghanistan. Associated Press writers Lynne O'Donnell and Karim Sharifi in Kabul, Afghanistan, contributed to this report.