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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Taliban Strikes Back As Fighting Escalates

KABUL, Afghanistan -- Striking back against resurgent forces of the deposed government, hundreds of Taliban soldiers in tanks and trucks roared toward the front line Thursday to reinforce their besieged defenses north of Kabul.

After a ferocious battle that lasted into the morning, the Taliban's Islamic army won back territory briefly lost to a surprise counteroffensive Wednesday by former government troops, witnesses said.

The counterattack had given the former government troops their first victory since before the Taliban forced them from the capital two weeks ago. The Sept. 27 capture of Kabul gave the Taliban control of two-thirds of the country, where they are installing their strict version of Islamic rule.

Later Thursday, Taliban rebuffed efforts by UN special envoy Norbert Hall to mediate a cease-fire in the escalating conflict, saying they would not lay down their weapons until all Afghans had been disarmed.

"It is useless to observe a cease-fire with those who stress fighting, and as you know in Bagram and these areas we have not collected the weapons and we have left the people alone," acting information minister Amir Khan Mutaqi told a news conference after the meeting with Hall.

"But they have started an insurgency, and a ceasefire with these people is not important. If they give up their insurgency and give up their government property there is no need actually for a cease-fire because we don't have any fight with them," he said.

On Wednesday, former government soldiers had pushed the advancing Taliban back from the mouth of the remote Panjshir Valley and pinned them down near Charikar, 70 kilometers north of the capital, witnesses and aid groups operating in the area said.

The offensive killed at least 200 Taliban soldiers, a group aligned with the deposed government said. The claim could not be independently confirmed.

In retaliation, Taliban fighters in a village near Charikar summarily executed a resident and set fire to two homes, saying occupants had shot at them.

Using heavy artillery and tanks, Taliban soldiers also regained control Thursday of Jebul Siraj, the former headquarters of Afghanistan's deposed military chief, Ahmed Shah Massood, witnesses returning from the front line said. Jebul Siraj, 95 kilometers north of Kabul, is just south of the Panjshir Valley.

A stronghold of Massood, the Panjshir Valley is a difficult and dangerous battlefield. Throughout the 1980s civil war, Massood fought back Soviet soldiers from the valley, earning the nickname "Lion of the Panjshir."

The only other major fighting force in Afghanistan is commanded by the powerful northern warlord, Rashid Dostum, an ethnic Uzbek.

Dostum's army is well disciplined and well armed. Many of his soldiers were conscripts in the former communist government, backed for 14 years by Moscow. His fleet of aircraft includes several Russian fighter jets and Hind helicopter gun ships.