Hundreds of Taliban militants stormed a provincial capital in southern Afghanistan on Thursday and were fighting on multiple fronts with government forces, officials said.
Afghan officials deployed reinforcements to Tarin Kot, in Uruzgan province, and Afghan and U.S.-led NATO warplanes were carrying out airstrikes in an attempt to deter the latest Taliban advance against a strategic city.
One security official in Uruzgan said provincial officials had sought shelter at the local airport, home to an Afghan army brigade, in a sign that the battle was not going the government’s way.
“Afghan forces have lost overall control of the whole city,” said the official, requesting anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to speak to the media.
A Twitter account affiliated with the Taliban boasted that the city “was about to fall” and that its fighters were “combing the streets” of Tarin Kot. In a statement, the militant group called on Afghan security forces to stand down, saying it would “forgive and guarantee the life, property and honor of those who give up fighting.”
“We see them as our brothers,” the statement said.
The police chief in Uruzgan, Mohammad Wais Samimi, said by phone from Tarin Kot: “Our forces have been trying to push back the Taliban as fighting is going on in three parts of the city.”
Afghan officials said the powerful police chief of neighboring Kandahar province, Gen. Abdul Razaq, had arrived in Uruzgan with his forces and would help lead “a clearing operation.”
A spokesman for U.S.-led coalition forces declined to comment on the operation as it was ongoing.
One of the areas under attack was Sarchakhlai, just a few hundred yards from the provincial police headquarters. Taliban fighters were separated from the headquarters only by a dry riverbed.
Samimi said the Taliban launched an assault on the outskirts of Tarin Kot five days ago and Afghan forces responded with airstrikes and ground operations.
The spokesman for the Afghan interior ministry, Sediq Sediqqi, said Afghan special forces soldiers were sent to Tarin Kot on Wednesday night.
In three days of fighting, 250 Taliban fighters had been killed or wounded, said Dost Mohammad Nayab, a spokesman for the provincial governor. Eleven Afghan soldiers and police were killed and 17 injured, he said. It was not possible to confirm the figures.
No civilians had been killed, but several families had fled Tarin Kot for neighboring provinces, Nayab said.
Tarin Kot resident Ahmad Shah, a journalist who was stuck in his office, said, “The city is abandoned.”
Uruzgan sits on the border of the southern province of Helmand, the hub of Afghanistan’s poppy production. Taliban fighters control several districts in Helmand and in recent weeks have sought to erode the government’s grip on the capital of that province, Lashkar Gah.
The Taliban offensive in Helmand in August prompted the U.S. military to launch airstrikes near Lashkar Gah and deploy more than 100 ground troops to advise Afghan forces.
Special correspondent Faizy reported from Kabul and staff writer Bengali from Mumbai, India.
Follow @SBengali on Twitter for more news from South Asia
9:05 a.m.: This article was updated with casualty figures and other details.
This article was originally published at 3:20 a.m.