Taliban push into provincial capital in southern Afghanistan

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan (AP) - The Taliban pushed into the capital of Afghanistan's southern Uruzgan province on Thursday, triggering fierce clashes and sending all government officials fleeing from the city, an Afghan official said.

The insurgents' surprise attack left authorities in control only of Tirin Kot's police headquarters, which the Taliban were besieging since the morning hours, according to The provincial spokesman, Doost Mohammad Nayab.

Nayab said that all checkpoints around the city have been overrun or destroyed and appealed to the government in Kabul for quick reinforcements. He did not provide a casualty toll but said he feared that the city will soon completely fall to the insurgents.

Hundreds of Taliban are involved in the assault, Nayab added, without giving any specifics.

However, within hours, the Afghan Ministry of Defense said the Taliban had been repelled from Tirin Kot. Mohammad Radmanish, the ministry's deputy spokesman, said the army, police and intelligence service headquarters in the city have all been secured.

Radmanish insisted that all strategic locations in Tirin Kot, a city with a population of about 72,000, are now under government control and that reinforcements are on the way to the Uruzgan provincial capital.

Air support has been called in and Afghan airstrikes have killed several Taliban fighters in Tirin Kot, he added. The Taliban did not immediately issue any statements to media about the attack on Tirin Kot.

Nayab later said that Afghan and U.S. air force were pounding the Taliban with airstrikes, forcing them to step back from city. Afghan state TV reported from Tirin Kot that all shops, bakeries and pharmacies were closed and that the residents were fleeing.

One resident, shopkeeper Sultan Muhammad, said he fled and was making his way south to the city of Kandahar, the provincial capital of neighboring Kandahar province.

"We civilians are fed up with both the Taliban and the government, we don't care who is coming and who is going, we just want peace," he said, speaking to The Associated Press over the phone. He said the Taliban had pushed inside Tirin Kot, where they are now "attacking government buildings inside the city."

Tirin Kot is the third Afghan provincial capital that has come under Taliban threat recently, along with the city of Kunduz in the north and Lashkar Gah in southern Helmand province.

The uptick in Taliban attacks against Afghan security forces has prompted the United States to send additional troops to the southern Helmand province, where its capital, Lashkar Gah, is also under heavy pressure from the insurgents. The provincial council head Kareem Atal earlier said that roughly 80 percent of Helmand is already under Taliban control.

Since August, Taliban fighters have attacked Afghan security forces in northern Kunduz province, briefly taking control of a district headquarters. The militants also overran a district in northern Baghlan province and in eastern Paktia province. Meanwhile, in eastern Nangarhar province, Taliban militants are fighting pitched battles with security forces.

The Taliban are also believed to have captured much of Uruzgan province.

Afghanistan's Ministry of Defense says its security forces are currently waging operations in 15 provinces.

Also on Thursday, a sticky bomb attached to a motorcycle exploded in Kabul, killing one civilian and wounding two others, police officer Gulam Jan said.


Associated Press Writer Amir Shah in Kabul contributed to this report.

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