Tal­iban push hard against Afghan fight­ers in south­ern city

Baltimore Sun - - WORLD - By Sayed Salahud­din — As­so­ci­ated Press

KABUL, Afghanistan — Tal­iban fight­ers waged street-by-street gun­bat­tles against Afghan forces Thurs­day in an iso­lated south­ern city that was once a mil­i­tant strong­hold, push­ing hard to­ward gov­ern­ment of­fices as Afghan he­li­copter gun­ships tried to slow the ad­vance, of­fi­cials said.

The sur­prise at­tack on Tirin Kot, the cap­i­tal of Uruz­gan prov­ince, came as Tal­iban forces in re­cent weeks have seized new ter­ri­tory around the coun­try and made ag­gres­sive moves. In the cap­i­tal, Kabul, in­sur­gents have staged a series of sui­cide bomb­ings and other at­tacks.

Of­fi­cials said the mil­i­tants ap­peared to be gain­ing ground against out­gunned se­cu­rity forces in Tirin Kot, even as re­in­force­ments were sent from Kan­da­har and Kabul to help de­fend the com­pounds of the gov­er­nor and po­lice chief. There were re­ports that some of­fi­cials had fled to the city air­port, and the Tal­iban claimed they had taken the lo­cal prison and freed all in­mates in­clud­ing in­sur­gents.

Gov. Nasir Ah­mad Kharoti, reached by phone briefly, said that he had not aban­doned his of­fice but added that he could not speak longer be­cause of the “sit­u­a­tion.” He said that the Tal­iban had ad­vanced to­ward the city “un­der cover of dark­ness” but that “we are push­ing them back.”

Tirin Kot is far from ma­jor pop­u­la­tion cen­ters in Afghanistan and more than 75 miles from the near­est large city, Kan­da­har. But it holds sym­bolic im­por­tance as the birth­place of a late Tal­iban leader. It is also at the cen­ter of Afghanistan’s opium poppy grow­ing re­gion, a key source of rev­enue for the Tal­iban.

The sud­den in­sur­gent thrust there is one more sign that the Tal­iban are mov­ing to es­tab­lish zones of con­trol in nu­mer­ous scat­tered re­gions, both within and be­yond their tra­di­tional strongholds. Tirin Kot was pro­tected by Dutch and Aus­tralian troops for years un­til the dras­tic re­duc­tion of NATO forces in 2014.

Afghan troops were re­ported to be weak­en­ing un­der the mil­i­tant on­slaught. Some had to aban­don their posts for lack of am­mu­ni­tion, said Mo­hibul­lah Popal, a tribal chief and for­mer po­lice of­fi­cial there. In­ad­e­quate fight­ing sup­plies have led to so-called tac­ti­cal with­drawals by Afghan forces in other re­cent clashes.

Res­cue mis­sion

U.S spe­cial op­er­a­tions forces launched a res­cue mis­sion to re­trieve two men not long af­ter they were kid­napped by in­sur­gents in Afghanistan last month, but the hostages, an Amer­i­can and an Aus­tralian who worked at the Amer­i­can Univer­sity of Afghanistan, were not found, U.S. de­fense of­fi­cials said Thurs­day.

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