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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Afghan Opposition Steps Up Attacks

KABUL, Afghanistan -- Afghanistan's opposition alliance attacked a key northern district overnight, with heavy fighting raging Monday morning and the deaths of several people on each side, an opposition spokesman said.

The clashes occurred as Afghanistan's ruling Taliban militia readied itself for a possible U.S. military strike.

A Taliban official said that the militia's troops have recovered sophisticated equipment from a foreign spy plane they shot down. There has been no confirmation that the plane belonged to the United States. But U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld said Sunday that the United States had lost contact with an unmanned aircraft over Afghanistan even though he did not believe it had been shot down. The United States has stepped up contacts with the opposition alliance in recent days in preparation for a possible assault on the Taliban.

The Taliban controls more than 90 percent of Afghan territory. But the northern-based opposition alliance has stepped up its offensives in the days since the terror attacks in the United States and the Sept. 15 death of its leader, Ahmed Shah Massood, from wounds suffered in a suicide bombing.

Opposition spokesman Mohammed Ashraf Nadeem said Monday he had no exact figure on casualties in the latest fighting but exchanges of artillery and rockets continued in the northern Taliban-controlled district of Aq Kupruk. Nadeem said his alliance was attempting to capture the district and that the Taliban had sent in fresh troops and has managed to hold on to its position.

Taliban spokesmen were not immediately available for comment. However, an Interfax report out of Islamabad cited Taliban defense officials as saying the militia had mobilized 300,000 "experienced" fighters who were now located in Kabul and other strategic areas throughout Afghanistan.

On Sunday, the opposition claimed to have captured a key district of the Balkh province and to have killed at least 80 Taliban fighters. General Abdul Rash-eed Dostum, chief of the Jumbish-e-Milli opposition group, said that at least 200 Taliban fighters were captured and that his side had two men injured.

A Taliban official in Kabul confirmed the fighting but insisted the opposition alliance had made no gains in the region during clashes about 300 kilometers northwest of the capital. The official spoke on condition of anonymity.

It was not possible to independently confirm the claims of either side.

Afghanistan's ruling Taliban claimed Saturday that its fighters shot down an unmanned reconnaissance plane in northern Afghanistan and were trying to determine which country launched it. The Taliban's official Bakhtar news agency said the aircraft was shot down over the Tashgurgan Pass in Samangan province, which borders Uzbekistan.

On Sunday, the Taliban's ambassador to Pakistan, Abdul Salam Zaeef, said in Islamabad that the militia has found the downed plane and moved it to an airfield in Mazar-e-Sharif. There soldiers removed modern equipment such as computers and cameras from the lightly damaged aircraft and were examining them. He said they still weren't sure which country the plane was from.