Taliban push hard against Afghan fighters in southern city
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.
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.