KABUL-Fighting raged Tuesday between Taliban militants and Afghan government forces for control of a provincial capital near the Iranian border, local officials said, in a confrontation shaping up as a stern test of USA efforts to build an effective, local force.
The NATO-led Resolute Support mission in Kabul said U.S. A-10 attack aircraft were also supporting Afghan forces and there had been at least one drone strike, while Afghan air force A-29s and Mi-17 helicopters had conducted multiple attacks.
The Taliban launched a coordinated assault on Farah shortly after midnight, and quickly overran checkpoints at the city's edge.
At least some militants have been hiding in private houses, making it hard for Afghan forces to use heavy weapons, Farah governor Abdul Basir Salangi told Ariana News, adding: "But still we are taking back positions one by one".
Afghan forces have been struggling to hold back the resurgent militant group since the withdrawal of North Atlantic Treaty Organisation combat forces at the end of 2014.
The Afghan Defense Ministry said in a statement that "serious measures" had been taken to defend Farah after the militants launched their offensive from the city's north side.
Farah, a remote and sparsely populated province on the border with Iran, has seen months of heavy fighting, with hundreds of police and soldiers killed and severe losses inflicted even on elite special forces units.
Multiple blasts and gun battle in eastern Afghan city
TRT World spoke to a provincial official Ahmad Ali Hazrat , who said the latest attack has shaken confidence in the government. However, the Taliban is now taking part in its annual spring offensive and has launched a number of attacks in recent weeks.
But inside the city residents reported clashes were continuing.
"The people are running from the city and the situation is very bad", said a resident of Farah.
Early Tuesday, Ahmad Zaki, a doctor at the city's central hospital, said that so far two dead police officers and 16 wounded security forces members had been brought to the medical facility since the start of the latest assault.
The Taliban stormed the city in the early hours of Tuesday morning and were pushed back early Wednesday, said Salangi. Gunfire and explosions could be heard as he spoke to an AFP reporter by telephone.
Afghan officials confirmed that a district police chief in Farah died of his wounds on Tuesday, but they denied claims that the deputy provincial police chief had also died, saying he was critically wounded. Despite the pressure of greatly stepped-up USA and Afghan airstrikes, the Taliban have shown little interest in the Afghan government's offer of a comprehensive peace agreement. Officials have warned of a deteriorating security situation as insurgents have entered the capital several times.
Farah is a poppy-growing province in an isolated region of Afghanistan.
Although the insurgents have been unable to take and hold any provincial center, they are active across Afghanistan and the government has firm control over no more than 56 percent of the country, according to United States estimates.