Multi-pronged attack on checkpoint in Ali Abad district of northern Kunduz province set off hours-long deadly shootout.

The Taliban stormed a checkpoint in northern Afghanistan killing at least 15 policemen in the latest attack by the armed group, an official said on Tuesday.

The multi-pronged attack on the checkpoint in the Ali Abad district of northern Kunduz province began late on Monday and set off an hours-long shootout, according to Ghulam Rabani Rabani, a provincial council member.

Along with the 15 policemen killed, two other officers were wounded in the assault, he said.

The attack came as Afghan troops have been battling the Taliban for the past few weeks in Kunduz’s Dashti Archi and Imam Sahib districts, Rabani added.

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid claimed responsibility for the checkpoint attack.

Strong presence

The Taliban has a strong presence in Kunduz and controls several of the province’s districts.

The provincial capital, the city of Kunduz, briefly fell to the Taliban in 2015 before the armed group withdrew in the face of a NATO-backed Afghan offensive.

The city is a strategic crossroads with easy access to much of northern Afghanistan as well as the country’s capital, Kabul, about 335km (200 miles) away.

The Taliban pushed back into the city centre again a year later, briefly raising its flag before gradually being driven out again.

The armed group launched another attempt to overrun the city in August but was repelled.

The Taliban now controls nearly half of Afghanistan and has been relentless in its near-daily attacks targeting Afghan security forces, attacks that often inflict heavy casualties.

The fighting has also killed scores of civilians.

‘Endless war’

US President Donald Trump, since his 2016 presidential campaign, has spoken of a need to withdraw US troops from the “endless war” in Afghanistan.

He has complained the US has served as policemen in Afghanistan and it is not the US military’s job.

Washington has about 14,000 US troops in Afghanistan as part of the US-led coalition. US forces are training and advising Afghan forces and conducting counterterrorism operations against armed fighters.

Trump had ordered a troop withdrawal in conjunction with the peace talks that would have left about 8,600 US forces in the country.

Last month, US envoy Zalmay Khalilzad brokered a preliminary peace deal with the Taliban.

But a surge in Taliban violence and the death of a US soldier prompted Trump to cancel a secret Camp David meeting where the peace deal would have been finalised and declare the tentative agreement “dead”.