HERAT (AFP) – Afghan commandos and US air attacks drove the Taleban to the outskirts of Farah city, officials said yesterday, after a day-long battle to prevent the insurgents from seizing the western provincial capital.
The US carried out more drone strikes overnight and the Afghan army is still clearing the city, Afghan and NATO officials said.
Shops, offices and schools remained closed, with residents frightened to leave home after hours of heavy fighting.
“The Taleban have retreated from the city and positioned their forces in the outskirts,” provincial council member Dadullah Qani told AFP from Farah.
Fighting continued late into the night, he said. “The city is still closed as people are in fear.”
With Internet and mobile networks patchy, casualty figures were difficult to verify.
Defence Ministry spokesman Mohammad Radmanish said 11 soldiers were killed. Previously he and NATO had said “dozens” of Taleban were killed in the fighting.
Farah provincial governor Abdul Basir Salangi and Interior Ministry spokesman Najib Danish gave far higher tolls. Danish said 300 Taleban had been killed, though Salangi said the figure also included the wounded.
A spokesman for NATO’s Resolute Support mission said the fighting had been “subdued” overnight but was likely to pick up again yesterday.
“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 told AFP.
“The 207th Corps commander is leading operations on the ground and the city remains in government control.”
Some insurgents were believed to be hiding inside residents’ homes, meaning the clearing operation could take some time.
“There is fear that once the reinforcements are gone they will come out and launch an attack again,” Jamila Amini, a provincial council member, told AFP from inside the city.
People remained apprehensive. “I want to open my shop today but they have planted land mines in some parts of the city,” said resident Abdul Samad.
Reinforcements including special forces were rushed in from Herat and Kandahar as the fighting began late Monday.
Aref Rezaee, a spokesman for the 207th Corps, said that with their help the Taleban were forced from the city at around midnight, some 24 hours after residents told AFP the initial assault began.
Afghan forces, their numbers sapped by killings and desertions, were struggling nationwide to hold back the resurgent militant group since the withdrawal of NATO combat forces at the end of 2014.
Farah province, a remote region that borders Iran, has been the scene of intense fighting in recent years, and there have long been fears that its capital is vulnerable.
The assault was the latest in a series of attempts by the Taleban to capture urban centres. Kunduz, Afghanistan’s fifth largest city, fell briefly to the Taleban in 2015.
The insurgents, along with the Islamic State (IS) group, also stepped up their attacks in the capital Kabul, which the United Nations said has in recent years become one of the country’s deadliest places for civilians.