US, Afghan attacks force Taliban to retreat from western city

US military carried out more drone strikes overnight and the Afghan army was still clearing the city

Herat (Afghanistan): Afghan commandos and US air attacks have driven the Taliban to the outskirts of Farah city, officials said Wednesday, after a daylong 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 remain closed, with residents frightened to leave home after hours of heavy fighting. A Nato spokesman said there could be more fighting Wednesday.

“The Taliban have retreated from the city and positioned their forces in the outskirts,” provincial council member Dadullah Qani told journalists 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 have been killed. Previously he and Nato had said “dozens” of Taliban were killed in the fighting.

Farah provincial governor Abdul Basir Salangi and interior ministry spokesman Najib Danish gave far higher tolls. Danish said 300 Taliban had been killed, though Salangi said the 300 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 Wednesday.

“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 are 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 landmines in some parts of the city,” said resident Abdul Samad.

Troops rushed in

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 Taliban 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, have been 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 poppy-growing 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 is the latest in a series of attempts by the Taliban to capture urban centres. Kunduz, Afghanistan’s fifth largest city, fell briefly to the Taliban in 2015.

The insurgents, along with the Islamic State group, have also stepped up their attacks in the capital Kabul, which the UN says has in recent years become one of the country’s deadliest places for civilians.

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