By Feroz Sultani
KUNDUZ CITY, Afghanistan (Reuters) - Taliban fighters launched a new assault on the capital of northern Kunduz province from three directions on Monday, police said, as government forces fought to keep the hard-line Islamist insurgents from entering the city.
The assault was the second time this year that the Taliban have threatened to take ground inside Kunduz city, as the NATO-trained Afghan police and army fight largely without the help of foreign forces.
Breaching a provincial capital would be a milestone in the nearly 14-year-old insurgency, though Afghan forces this year have driven the Taliban from most territory they've gained in the warm-weather fighting season.
Monday's coordinated attacks were launched at about 6 a.m. (9.30 p.m. EDT Sunday) and heavy artillery and gunfire could be heard in the center of Kunduz city.
"Right now heavy fighting is ongoing in Khanabad, Chardara and at Imam Saheb, the main entrances to the city," Sayed Sarwar Hussaini, a spokesman for Kunduz police said. "We have enough forces and will drive them out soon."
But if the Taliban defeat Afghan forces at any of the three main entrances, it would be difficult for the government to maintain control.
The once-quiet north of Afghanistan has seen escalating violence in recent years. Kunduz city was the center of fierce fighting in April as the Taliban, driven from power by a 2001 U.S.-backed military intervention, sought to gain territory after last year's end of NATO's combat mission.
A scaled-down NATO mission now mostly trains and advises Afghan forces, although U.S. drones still target militant leaders and an American counter-terrorist force also operates in the country.
(Writing by Kay Johnson)