By Mohammad Anwar
ASADABAD, Afghanistan (Reuters) - Hundreds of Taliban fighters attacked and briefly seized parts of a district in Afghanistan's remote and mountainous northeast on Wednesday, provincial officials said, with gunfights raging for hours between insurgents and Afghan troops.
Jamuladdin Badr, the governor of Nuristan province near the border with Pakistan, told Reuters the Duab district center had "fallen into the hands of insurgents," but most of it was recaptured within hours by Afghan troops.
Insurgents left 17 bodies on the battlefield, and were still fighting government forces on the outskirts of Duab in the late afternoon, he added.
The defense ministry said that Afghan commandos had reclaimed the district.
Many areas in Afghanistan's rugged northeast are secured only by Afghan police, without Afghan or foreign troops, and insurgents sometimes overrun remote outposts only to be pushed back later when military reinforcements arrive.
Badr said many of the fighters were non-Afghans who had crossed over from Pakistan.
Provincial security officials also said insurgents had taken over parts of the district, where they had hoisted the white and black Taliban flag. It is common for Pakistani fighters to cross the porous, largely ungoverned border with Afghanistan.
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said in a statement emailed to the media that "the district has been completely taken over."
He said the Taliban had killed and wounded several members of the police force but Afghan officials could not immediately confirm or deny the reports of the deaths.
The Taliban announced this month the start of a spring offensive and have launched a series of attacks on government buildings.
About 200 fighters attacked a police outpost in Nuristan this month and two Taliban insurgents were killed.
U.S. and Afghan commanders have also warned of a spike in violence as insurgents push back after NATO-led troops made gains with offensives, mainly in the Taliban heartland in the south, over the past 18 months.
They have warned that significant attacks would be likely in eastern areas, such as Nuristan, where the insurgency is much more fragmented, and in major cities.
Afghan and foreign troops have less control over more remote areas in provinces like Nuristan and Kunar in the east near the border with Pakistan. But even in major cities, insurgents are able to mount serious attacks.
Saturday, a suicide bomber killed six medical students in an attack in the main military hospital in a heavily guarded area of the capital, Kabul, not far from the U.S. embassy.
Despite the presence of up to 150,000 foreign troops, violence in Afghanistan is at its worst since U.S.-backed Afghan forces overthrew the Taliban in 2001.
Last year saw record casualties on all sides and this year is following a similar trend. Escalating violence has raised questions about NATO plans to hand over all security to Afghan forces by the end of 2014.
(Additional reporting by Hamid Shalizi in KABUL; Writing by Amie Ferris-Rotman; Editing by Paul Tait and Alex Richardson)