US, Afghan attacks force Taliban to retreat from western city: officials
Afghan commandos and U.S. air strikes have driven the Taliban to the outskirts of Farah city, officials said on May 16, after a day-long battle to prevent the insurgents from seizing the western provincial capital.
“Subdued” fighting was continuing outside the city and Afghan troops were being supported by US airpower and advisers, a NATO spokesman said, while the Afghan army was conducting a clearing operation inside.
Some residents were starting to emerge from their homes, though many remained indoors, frightened by the hours of gunfights, airstrikes, and explosions that began overnight May 15 to 16.
“People are scared but happy there is no more fighting in the city,” Bilal, an NGO worker, told AFP. “I can see the people have started going about their business in the city, but government offices are closed.”
With internet and mobile networks patchy, casualty figures were difficult to verify.
Defense ministry spokesman Mohammad Radmanish said 11 soldiers had been killed. Previously he and NATO had said “dozens” of Taliban died in the fighting.
Farah provincial governor Abdul Basir Salangi and interior ministry spokesman Najib Danish gave far higher tolls. Danish said 300 Taliban had been killed, though Salangi said the 300 figure also included the wounded.
Salangi’s spokesman, Nasir Mehri, said at least five civilians had been killed, and gave a higher death toll for the security forces of 25.
The attack was the latest in a series of attempts by the Taliban to storm urban centers.
Farah province, a remote poppy-growing region that borders Iran, has been the scene of intense fighting in recent years, and there have long been fears that its capital is vulnerable.
Reinforcements including Afghan special forces were rushed in from Herat and Kandahar as the fighting began late Monday. A spokesman for NATO’s Resolute Support mission in Afghanistan, Lt Col Martin O’Donnell, said the U.S. had carried out drone strikes and had A-10 Thunderbolts in the air over the city as a show of force supporting the Afghan army during the fighting.
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, meanwhile, apologized on May 16 to the families of civilians, mainly children, killed when the country’s air force sprayed an outdoor religious gathering with rockets and machine gun fire last month.
The April 2 airstrike on a ceremony attended by hundreds of men and boys in Dasht-e-Archi district - a Taliban stronghold in the northern province of Kunduz - left at least 36 people dead including 30 children, a United Nations investigation has shown. Seventy-one people were wounded, including 51 children, it said, adding that it had “credible information” the tolls could be even higher.
On May 16, Ghani met families as well as local elders, a statement from the presidential palace said.