HERAT, Afghanistan: Taliban fighters with heavy weapons and night-vision equipment fought their way close to the centre of the western city of Farah on Tuesday, as Afghan government forces battled to keep control, officials and residents said.
Residents of Farah, capital of the province of the same name, have warned for months the city was vulnerable and the attack appeared to threaten a repeat of the Taliban’s capture of the northern city of Kunduz, which fell briefly in 2015.
“The Taliban are moving very fast, if the government does not take serious and speedy action, the province is going to collapse to Taliban,” said Hamidullah, a resident of the city reached by telephone.
Residents said Taliban forces began their attack at around 2.00 a.m. (2130 GMT Monday) from several directions.
Mohammad Radmanish, a spokesman for the defence ministry in Kabul, said security forces from neighbouring provinces had been ordered to Farah to protect civilians and government buildings and said the Taliban had been pushed out of the city.
“Fortunately, special forces and commandos are in the city and there is no danger of it falling,” he said, adding that the Afghan air force was attacking Taliban positions.
There were no immediate casualty assessments but residents said there were wounded and dead on both sides as well as among the civilian population.
In one incident, at least 18 soldiers were killed by a suicide bomber in the Askarabad area of the city, Farid Bakhtawar, head of a provincial council said. However, Radmanish said only two soldiers were killed in the blast.
Officials said the insurgents were close to overrunning four police districts and the city’s headquarters of the NDS, the main intelligence service, was under heavy attack.
“Farah is in dire need of air support,” Dadullah Qane, a provincial council member, said by telephone. “The Taliban are well equipped with heavy arms and night vision equipment.”
“Right now there is heavy fighting close to the provincial governor’s house and police headquarters has been under heavy attack for an hour,” he said, adding that the provincial governor and other officials had left the city for a military base.
Many officials, including the governor’s spokesman, were not answering their telephones and it was not immediately possible to confirm the governor’s whereabouts.
Qari Yousuf Ahmadi, a spokesman for the Taliban issued a statement warning civilians to remain in their houses.
“Mujahideen have nothing to do with civilians, only military positions are the target,” he said, referring to Taliban fighters.—REUTERS