Afghan forces battle to thwart Taleban assaults

KANDAHAR (AFP) – Afghan government forces struggled against Taleban assaults on several major cities yesterday as the insurgents stepped up a nationwide offensive that saw a key airport in the south come under rocket fire overnight.

Hundreds of commandos were deployed to the western city of Herat while authorities in the southern city of Lashkar Gah called for more troops to rein in the assaults.

Fighting has surged across the country since early May when United States (US)-led foreign forces began a final withdrawal from Afghanistan that is now almost complete.

After seizing large tracts of rural territory and capturing key border crossings, the Taleban have started assaulting provincial capitals with gruelling onslaughts.

Flights out of Kandahar, Afghanistan’s second-largest city and the former stronghold for the insurgents, were halted after rockets struck the airport before dawn.

A security personnel stands guard on top of a vehicle outside United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan office compound in Herat province. PHOTO: AFP

Airport chief Massoud Pashtun said two rockets had hit the runway and repairs were underway with planes likely to resume service later on Sunday.

The facility is vital to maintaining the logistics and air support needed to keep the Taleban from overrunning the city, while also providing aerial cover for large tracts of southern Afghanistan.

The attack came as the Taleban inched closer to overwhelming at least two other provincial capitals, including nearby Lashkar Gah in Helmand province.

“Fighting is going on inside the city and we have asked for special forces to be deployed,” Head of Helmand Provincial Council Ataullah Afghan told AFP.

Afghan security forces have increasingly relied on air strikes to push the militants back from cities even as they run the risk of hitting civilians in heavily populated areas.

“The city is in the worst condition. I do not know what will happen,” said Halim Karimi, a resident of Lashkar Gah, a city of 200,000 residents.