An Afghan police chief and 17 of his men are missing after the Taliban seized a remote district in the country's northwestern Faryab province on Sunday, an Afghan official said. The men have not been heard from since Monday.
A spokesman for the Taliban claimed the insurgents detained the Ghormach police chief, who was wounded, along with 13 other police officers. There was no immediate explanation for the discrepancy.
Meanwhile, the Afghan government says it has tapped a notorious former warlord to lead efforts to retake Ghormach.
First Vice President Abdul Rashid Dostum and other former warlords are assuming a larger role in the battle against the Taliban as troops have struggled to take on the insurgents without the aid of U.S. and NATO combat troops.
Dostum is supposed to assess the situation in the district and submit recommendations to President Ashraf Ghani and the National Security Council, his spokesman told the Associated Press. He will then implement their decision, only leading men into battle with their permission.
Dostum, a prominent mujahedeen commander who fought the Soviets in the 1980s and took part in the civil war that erupted after their withdrawal, is expected to lead a combined force of army, police and his own militiamen. Government reinforcements are already being dispatched to Faryab.
In August he joined troops in pushing the Taliban out of districts around the provincial capital Maymana. The former warlord was also preparing to go to Kunduz, a northern city seized by the Taliban for three days last month, his spokesperson added.
Dostum's activities have caused some alarm and raised questions about the government outsourcing security to former warlords able to mobilize small private armies.
Acting Defense Minister Masoom Stankzai has denied the government is falling back on private militias.
"It is a kind of perception that they have their own army. They say that if the government wants them to mobilize people and bring them in to really strengthen the security forces, they will help and mobilize and not do anything without proper military planning," Stanekzai told the AP.
Meanwhile, Afghan troops were battling the Taliban in three districts in the southern Helmand province, on the other side of the country, Sediqqi said.
Officials said the insurgents had fought their way to within 6 miles of the provincial capital, Lashkar Gah. Sediqqi said Afghanistan was facing "security problems" in at least nine districts, without elaborating.
Mohammad Hashim Alokozai, a lawmaker from Helmand province, said the Taliban had launched attacks on the outskirts of Lashkar Gah and seized the Babaji area north of the city. The attack killed or wounded dozens of security forces.
"I warn the government, if the Taliban overrun Lashkar Gah it will not be as easy to take it back as it was in Kunduz," Alokozai said.
It took two weeks for government troops to drive the Taliban out of Kunduz, and battles are still under way on the outskirts of the city. Up to half of the city's population of 300,000 is believed to have fled during the fighting, which cut off water, electricity and food supplies.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.