ISLAMABAD - Afghan forces say they have pushed back the Taliban as reports said heavy fighting continued in Farah city, the capital of Afghanistan’s western Farah province.
Fierce fighting broke out in the pre-dawn hours of Tuesday after Taliban fighters attacked from the north and reached within three kilometers of the center of the province, according to Norulhaq Khaleqi, the spokesman for the Second Brigade of the Afghan National Army. Army officials said most of the fighting took place in the northern and western parts of the city.
Officials of the Afghan ministries of defense and interior claimed their security forces have stopped the Taliban's advance in the north of Farah city. In a joint press briefing midday Tuesday, they said their forces were fighting the Taliban a few kilometers outside the city.
Taliban leaders had claimed their fighters captured a number of government offices including a local office of the Afghan Intelligence Agency (NDS) during the fighting, a claim Najib Danish, an interior ministry spokesman, denied. He said Afghan forces were receiving support from foreign forces.
Afghan government officials at Tuesday's news conference said two Afghan security personnel were killed and four others wounded, while, 10 Taliban were killed and the same number of them wounded.
Meanwhile, eyewitnesses told VOA that Taliban are still inside Farah city and fighting continued later Tuesday in a number of back streets. They said although the reinforcements have helped the security forces, the street to street fight with the Taliban continued.
Local media reported that Taliban forces was close to taking over a prison in the city.
“#FARAH - Farid Bakhtawar, head of Farah provincial council, has said that clashes are ongoing in the city and the "enemies" are moving towards the prison compound.#Afghanistan,” a tweet from the verified account of Afghanistan’s Tolo News TV channel read.
Defense ministry officials sought to quell panic as local media reported some residents were fleeing the city. “We assure the people of Farah that all necessary operations have been implemented and Afghan air force, commando force, and contingents of Corp in western Afghanistan are in action against security threats,” defense ministry officials said in a statement.
Officials said security forces had received reinforcements and were fighting back the rebels.
“Fresh commando forces are now deployed to Police HQ, NDS and Prison in #Farah. People in #Farah stand by their security forces and operation continues. Situation will change by the end of the day!” Tweeted Javid Faisal, the spokesman for Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah on Tuesday.
Reuters quoted residents as saying Taliban forces had set up illegal checkpoints in parts of the city and were stopping people from leaving.
Farah, sandwiched between Iran and Afghanistan’s opium heartland Helmand province, is also home to many drug smuggling routes into Iran. The province has seen ongoing clashes for several months. The security situation in the province has deteriorated as Afghan and NATO forces put pressure on Taliban in nearby Helmand and many fighters moved into nearby provinces, including Farah.
Taliban launched their spring offensive, called al-Khandaq, last month. Since then, Afghan security forces have suffered heavy casualties at the hands of the insurgents but claim they have inflicted heavy damage on the Taliban in return.