Afghan government forces launch offensive on Taliban stronghold

Afghan government forces launch offensive on Taliban stronghold
After Taliban fighters burst into the capital of a southern Afghanistan province, government forces are attempting to flush out the last insurgents from the troubled province.
3 min read
12 September, 2016
Afghan forces are attempting to role back recent Taliban advances [Getty]

Afghan forces have mounted a new offensive and encircled the main city the southern Uruzgan province, days after militants stormed into the city.

Taliban insurgents had attempted to overrun Tarin Kot on Thursday, triggering heavy fighting around government buildings and sending panicked residents fleeing.

They were repelled hours later by Afghan forces bolstered by reinforcements.

Government troops launched a fresh offensive late Saturday to further beat them back from the outskirts of the city, which has been besieged for months.

"Dozens of Taliban fighters have been killed since military, police and special forces mounted the offensive backed by air strikes," Dost Mohammad Nayab, spokesman for Uruzgan's governor, told AFP.

He said 13 policemen were killed and 20 others wounded in recent days of fighting, which highlights the insurgent movement's aggressive push to capture big cities, from Kunduz in the north to Lashkar Gah in the south.

Boosting morale for government troops, General Abdul Raziq, the powerful police chief of Kandahar province with a fierce reputation for brutality, has been leading the operation in Uruzgan.

US warplanes launched three air strikes in the vicinity of Tarin Kot on Friday to support Afghan troops.

But many civilians who fled the Taliban onslaught on Thursday remain fearful of returning to Tarin Kot.

"We left everything behind, including our house, farm and livestock," said Ezatullah Khpalwak who escaped to Kandahar with 25 family members when the fighting erupted.

"The government says it has driven out the Taliban from Tarin Kot, but we fear the militants will make a comeback."

Uruzgan's police chief Wais Samim had said many of Tarin Kot's outer defences had fallen to the Taliban without a fight.

In a sobering admission on Thursday, Uruzgan's police chief Wais Samim had said many of Tarin Kot's outer defences had fallen to the Taliban without a fight, suggesting internal foul play. He vowed action against any insurgent sympathisers within the ranks.

The Taliban had drawn jobless Afghans from outlying districts to join them in attacking Tarin Kot, promising them free rein to loot once they were inside the city, multiple village residents told AFP.

"The Taliban announced in mosques: 'the head of the enemy will be ours, the booty will be yours'," Mohibullah, a resident of the volatile Dehrawud district, told AFP.

"That's how they attracted dozens of  jobless men to fight with them."

Nayab said many homes inside Tarin Kot were looted after the Taliban raided the city on Thursday, with stolen possessions including vehicles of local residents.

The deteriorating security highlights the struggle of overstretched Afghan forces to secure remote provinces such as Uruzgan.

It is a top poppy-growing region where Australian, Dutch and US troops fought for years.

Elsewhere in the country on Sunday, the prominent police chief of eastern Nangarhar province - an Islamic State group stronghold - was killed by a roadside bomb.

General Zorawar Zahid was leading a counter-insurgency operation in the troubled Hasarak district when his vehicle hit an improvised explosive device. It underlined the growing insecurity in Afghanistan with the Taliban claimed responsibility for his killing.