Afghan commandos, backed by US airstrikes, have managed to push attacking Taliban militants back to the outskirts of the western city of Farah following a day of fierce fighting, officials say.
“The Taliban have retreated from the city and positioned their forces in the outskirts,” said provincial council member Dadullah Qani from inside the flashpoint city on Wednesday.
Qani said the fighting had continued late into night.
He said shops, offices, and schools in Farah remained closed as “people are in fear” to leave their houses after the long, intense fighting between the two sides.
According to NATO and Afghan officials, the US had helped the Afghan ground forces with drone strikes against the militants.
Afghan Defense Ministry spokesman Mohammad Radmanish said 11 Afghan soldiers had lost their lives in the battle.
Interior Ministry spokesman Najib Danish said 300 Taliban members had been killed, while Farah provincial governor Abdul Basir Salangi said as many militants had been killed and wounded.
A spokesman for the NATO mission in Afghanistan said that the fighting had decreased in intensity overnight but was likely to intensify again.
“We conduct(ed) a number of additional drone strikes throughout the night and continue to enable the (Afghan military), who remain squarely in the lead,” Lt. Col. Martin O’Donnell said, adding that the city was in “government control.”
The Taliban began an attack on the city on Tuesday night.
The fear of another attack by Taliban militants lingers in the city, as the inhabitants “fear that once the reinforcements are gone, they will come out and launch an attack again,” said local provincial council member Jamila Amini.
When the initial assault began, reinforcements, including commandos, were dispatched to the area from Herat and Kandahar.
The assault in the remote province is the latest in an array of attempts by the militant outfit to seize urban centers. Kunduz, Afghanistan’s fifth-largest city, briefly fell to the Taliban in 2015.
By intensifying their militancy, the Taliban have effectively turned down an offer by Afghan President Ashraf Ghani to negotiate.
The US-backed Afghan government is under pressure on multiple fronts this year as it prepares to hold long-delayed legislative elections even as its security forces struggle to get the upper hand on the battlefield and prevent civilian casualties.
Earlier this year, the UN figures showed that more than 10,000 Afghan civilians had been killed or wounded in the Afghan conflict last year. While the main cause of civilian deaths was said to be militant bombings, the report said US airstrikes as well as government forces had also caused casualties.
US-led forces invaded Afghanistan and toppled a ruling Taliban regime some 17 years ago. That ongoing war has failed to bring stability to the country despite the presence of thousands of foreign forces. A recent survey found that the Taliban militants were active in two-thirds of the country and were fully controlling four percent of it.
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