KABUL, Afghanistan — The Taliban launched an attack on the northern city of Kunduz on Saturday in a major show of force against the Afghan government even as the group’s leaders meet with U.S. negotiators in Qatar in a bid to end 18 years of war.

Much of Kunduz province is controlled by the Taliban, and the provincial capital, which is one of the largest cities in Afghanistan, has fallen to the militants twice in recent years. The city also is a strategic transport hub in northeastern Afghanistan.

At least 10 people were killed in a suicide attack, officials said, amid wider casualties.

Mohammad Yusuf Ayoubi, a member of the provincial council, told The Washington Post in a phone call that “there is intense fighting in the outskirts of the city and also in some areas deep inside the city.”

“The city is almost deserted,” he said, adding that airstrikes were being carried out against the militants.

Sayed Sarwar Hussaini, a spokesman for the provincial police, told The Associated Press that the offensive began overnight, with militants attacking the city from a number of strategic angles in what he called a “massive attack.”

“I can confirm that intense gun battles are going on around the city, but the Taliban have not been able to overrun any security checkpoint,” he said.

Presidential spokesman Sediq Sediqqi tweeted on Saturday that “Afghan security and defense forces are fully prepared to thwart the Taliban offensive in Kunduz.”

“As always the Taliban have taken positions in civilian areas,” he wrote.

Acting defense minister Assadullah Khalid traveled to Kunduz on Saturday afternoon and assured civilians the city “will not fall to militants,” ToloNews reported. He said nine security forces and 36 Taliban fighters were killed in the fighting.

“We are here with the people of Kunduz,” he said.

Later, as the police chief briefed journalists at a major roundabout in Kunduz, a suicide bomber detonated, killing at least 10 people, an Interior Ministry spokesman confirmed. It was not immediately clear whether the police chief, his spokesman or any journalists were among the dead.

U.S. Army Gen. Austin “Scott” Miller, the top American military commander in Afghanistan, was in Kunduz on Saturday but left shortly before the bombing.

In a news conference, Sediqqi said the Taliban’s attack demonstrates that the militants “do not accept the opportunity for peace created by the U.S. and Afghan governments.” He added that the assault on Kunduz is “completely in contradiction with what they talk about in the peace process in Doha.”

“In one side, they are busy in talks with the U.S.,” he said. “In the other side, they carry out attacks on homes, residential areas and our city in Afghanistan.”

Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid posted a video on Twitter showing a number of armed Taliban fighters surrounding a police station in Kunduz. Four police officers came out of the station and handed their weapons and body armor to the Taliban. A Taliban fighter who appears to be recording the video assures the policemen that they would be safe. The officers left after hugging the militants. The Washington Post was unable to independently verify the authenticity of the video.

Kunduz has experienced extreme levels of violence in recent years.

In 2015, when the Taliban took control of the city, a U.S. airstrike hit a hospital run by Doctors Without Borders, killing more than 40 people, including patients and medical staff members. The Pentagon said the hospital was not the intended target. Last year, a United Nations report said at least 30 children were among those killed in Afghan government airstrikes in Kunduz province.

U.S. and Taliban negotiators are in Qatar for their ninth round of peace talks in 10 months. Both sides have said that they are nearing a deal, although it was unclear whether an agreement would be made by Washington’s unofficial Sept. 1 deadline.

The Taliban is calling for a complete withdrawal of foreign troops, and U.S. negotiators are asking for a complete cease fire. There are 14,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan, but this week, President Trump told Fox News Radio that an initial withdrawal would reduce that number to 8,600.

A presidential election is scheduled here for late September, and President Ashraf Ghani, who is up for a second term, has insisted they will be held on time, even as his top competitor, Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah, said at a rally this week he would be willing to “quit elections for the sake of peace.”

The election has already been postponed twice.

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