…As Iran official says U.S. showing ‘some flexibility’ on oil sales***
Afghan air forces have slowed down a new Taliban offensive on parts of the north-eastern city of Kunduz, officials said on Saturday.
Various militant locations were targeted inside the city, said Provincial Councillor, Gulam Rabbani Rabbani, in fighting that has been going on for about 12 hours.
Sporadic gunfire rang out in different parts of the city, but not with the intensity of the earlier hours, according to another Councillor, Mawlawi Abdullah.
The city’s main electricity supply building, provincial hospital and the third police district are among the most important locations already taken over by the Taliban, according to local officials.
There were civilian and military casualties but the councillors did not provide any figures.
The clearance operation was being conducted cautiously to protect civilians, said a spokesman from the nearest major military base, the 217 corps of Pamir.
The Defence and Interior Ministries said that at least 40 Taliban militants were killed as a result of the air and ground operations in the city.
These numbers could not be verified.
Commando forces had also been deployed to the city, the Interior Ministry said.
Taliban spokesman, Zabiullah Mujahid, said in contrast that the militants’ operation in Kunduz, which began in the middle of the night, was going “smoothly”.
Mujahid published videos showing militants collecting munitions from a police compound apparently abandoned by Afghan forces.
In another video, a number of policemen were shown giving up their weapons to the Taliban and leaving their compound somewhere in the city.
The authenticity of the videos could not be verified.
The attack took place amid talks between the Taliban and the U.S. to find a political solution to the 17-year-long conflict.
Kunduz has been a flashpoint in the Afghanistan conflict over the past few years.
In late 2016, the Taliban entered the city and fought with Afghan forces for several days before being pushed out.
The Taliban took control of Kunduz for almost two weeks in late 2015 and made it the first provincial capital to fall to the insurgents since the American-led intervention in 2001.
In the meantime, a senior Iranian official said on Saturday the United States had shown flexibility on the licensing of Iranian oil sales and this was a sign that Washington’s “maximum pressure” policy against Tehran had been defeated, state media reported.
French President Emmanuel Macron paved the way at a G7 summit a week ago for a potential diplomatic solution to a confrontation between the U.S. and Iran brewing since President Donald Trump withdrew Washington last year from world powers’ 2015 nuclear deal with Tehran.
“Macron met with Trump during the G7 meeting and the U.S. side has shown some flexibility in the licensing of Iranian oil sales,’’ Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister, Abbas Araqchi, was quoted by the state news agency IRNA as saying.
“This is a breach in the U.S. maximum pressure policy and success for Iran’s policy of maximum resistance.’’
Araqchi did not elaborate and there was no immediate French or U.S. comment.
Since ditching the nuclear deal, calling it flawed to Iran’s advantage, Trump has re-imposed sanctions to strangle its vital oil trade and force Tehran to accept stricter limits on its nuclear activity, curb its ballistic missile programme and end its support for proxy forces around the Middle East.
Araqchi said Iran and its European partners in the nuclear deal faced “difficult and complex” talks towards salvaging the pact.
He said Tehran was determined to continue reducing its commitments under the accord until it received protection against sanctions on its oil sales and banking transactions.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani urged his people on Wednesday to unite to overcome Washington’s “economic war” while his government said it would use diplomacy to try to solve the standoff even though it distrusted Trump.
On Friday, the U.S. Treasury Department blacklisted the Iranian oil tanker Adrian Darya, with Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, saying Washington had reliable information the vessel was headed to Syria, an ally of Tehran.
The ship was detained by Britain off Gibraltar in July due to suspicions it was carrying Iranian oil to Syria in violation of European Union sanctions.
It was released in mid-August after Iran gave assurances that its cargo was not destined for Syria.
Turkey said on Friday the ship was headed to Lebanese waters after changing course several times.
Beirut said it was not informed of the plan, but Turkey’s information suggested that a ship-to-ship transfer of cargo might be attempted once it nears the coast of Lebanon, which borders on Syria.
A senior Iranian military commander vowed that Iran would retaliate if any of its vessels was stopped in international waters, according to Fars news agency.
“Piracy against Iran can’t be easily overlooked.
“It is natural for us to act when Iranian ships are stopped in any part of the world’s waters.
“Iran’s armed forces will certainly retaliate,’’ Brigadier General Kiumars Heydari, the Head of Iran’s Regular Ground Forces, told Fars.