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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Taliban Thrown Back By Masood's Assault

KABUL -- Aghanistan's Taliban admitted for the first time Monday it had lost key towns north of the capital to forces of former government military chief Ahmad Shah Masood.

Travellers said that Masood forces continued to hold territory as far south as the town of Charikar, an hour's drive north of Kabul, but intermittent exchanges of gun- and rocket fire were heard around the town.

Journalists were not permitted into the areas to confirm the reports.

The country's purist Islamic government lost Charikar and the frontline town of Jabal os-Siraj in weekend fighting, its worst setback since taking Kabul 17 days ago.

Acting Deputy Foreign Minister Sher Mohammad Stanakzai admitted suffering the losses but said the Taliban were successfully defending the key military airbase of Bagram and roads 30 minutes' drive north of Kabul.

Independent sources confirmed the airbase appeared to remain in Taliban hands, but they said the Taliban was not in complete control of the perimeter or of the road leading to the base.

In less than a week Masood, a formidable guerrilla fighter during the Soviet occupation of the 1980s, has emerged from his stronghold in the Panjsher valley 80 kilometers north of Kabul to roll the Taliban back almost to the capital.

Kabul itself was quiet Monday with Taliban fighters less visible than usual. Stanakzai said Masood did not have the strength to take the capital, but the Taliban was reinforcing its defenses in case.

"We have already strengthened our positions in the frontline and also we have taken proper measures and precautions around Kabul," he said.

Stanakzai dismissed the reverses as temporary and said the Taliban would soon counter-attack and resume its assault on the Panjsher, its original target before the Masood offensive.