ISLAMABAD - The Taliban has captured a western Afghan district near the border with Iran after inflicting heavy casualties on government forces.
Insurgents early Monday assaulted Anar Dara in the province of Farah and “partially” took control of the district headquarters, a provincial government spokesman said.
Naser Mehri told VOA fierce fighting was still raging in the area because government forces were still holding out in army bases and buildings of the intelligence agency, the National Directorate of Security (NDS).
Air support and fresh troops have been sent to the mountainous Afghan district but the Taliban has mined all roads leading to Anar Dara, making it difficult for the ground reinforcements to reach the battle zone.
An interior ministry spokesman in Kabul confirmed the deaths of at least eight Afghan security personnel, saying retaliatory airstrikes also killed nearly 60 insurgents.
The Taliban claimed it was in full control of the district center, the police headquarters and surrounding areas.
An insurgent spokesman, Qari Yousuf Ahmadi, asserted 15 Afghan troops had been killed and military vehicles seized, along with a large quantity of ammunition. The Taliban also released pictures of its fighters patrolling streets in the town.
But independent verification of battlefield claims from either side was difficult to ascertain.
Taliban territorial advances came just two days after insurgents staged a surprise assault in Bala Buluk, another insurgency-plagued district in Farah, and killed dozens of Afghan troops.
The provincial governor resigned in January, citing political interference and rampant corruption in law enforcement agencies in Farah.
Authorities have also accused Iran of facilitating Taliban’s advances in Afghanistan’s relatively peaceful western border provinces, charges Tehran denies.
Critics warn Taliban’s advances in Farah could pose serious security challenges because of its proximity with the southern Helmand province. Insurgents control or contest most of the districts in Helmand, the largest Afghan province and opium-poppy producing region.
Afghan military-led operations backed by U.S. airstrikes have lately inflicted heavy casualties on the Taliban in Helmand, which borders Pakistan.
Military commanders anticipate an uptick in fighting across Afghanistan with the onset of spring when insurgents stage major battlefield attacks.
The latest U.S. military assessments from December show that the Afghan government controls less than 56 percent of the country’s 407 districts while the Taliban controls or influences the rest.