Taliban encircles govt compound, kills dozens

KABUL (Aljazeera): Afghan officials say a massive Taliban siege of a government compound and army base in western Badghis province, now in its second day, has killed at least 12 more troops.

Friday’s fatalities bring the overall casualty toll for the assault in the district of Bala Murghab to at least 32. Many more have been wounded and the area is cut off.

Mohammad Nasir Nazari, a provincial council member, said that according to soldiers inside the base, roughly 2,000 Taliban fighters are involved in the attack.

He said there are about 600 Afghan troops and members of the security forces inside and they are running out of ammunition, water and food.

Abdul Waris Sherzad, a district chief, said the locals are disappointed that NATO forces and the Afghan government have not helped, an assertion the defence ministry disputes.

Sherzad said in a statement on Thursday the Taliban had killed 36 members of the government forces and captured several security checkpoints in attacks that began on Wednesday night.

More than 30 Taliban fighters were also killed, according to Jamshed Shahabi, spokesman for Badghis’ provincial governor.

Taliban spokesman Qari Yousuf Ahmadi said the group attacked from four directions, capturing five checkpoints.

Afghanistan’s defence ministry, in a series of tweets, said its forces chose to “tactically retreat” from the checkpoints to prevent civilian casualties.

The ministry said it called in multiple air attacks on Taliban positions and had airlifted reinforcements and supplies to Badghis.

On Friday the defence ministry said Afghan forces had forced the Taliban to retreat from some checkpoints and that all key areas remained under its control.

Recurring hotspot

The district of Bala Murghab has been a recurring hotspot of fighting in the past two months, and officials have previously warned that it could fall to the Taliban without reinforcements.

The armed group controls or contests nearly half of Afghanistan, the most since US-led forces removed it from power in 2001, according to the US Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction.

Fighting in Afghanistan has escalated before the usual spring season, as both sides seek to increase leverage in talks on a peace settlement.

Fighting between armed groups has also intensified. The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said in a statement on Thursday that attacks on Taliban positions by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL or ISIS) on March 23 resulted in 21,000 people being displaced in Kunar and Nangarhar provinces.

The latest round of peace talks between US and Taliban officials wrapped up last month, with both sides citing progress.

But despite the talks, the Taliban stages near-daily attacks on Afghan forces, inflicting staggering casualties. The armed group refuses to talk directly with the government in Kabul, considering it a US puppet.

The Taliban says it is fighting to expel foreign troops, topple the Western-backed Afghan government and restore its version of Islamic law.

TOLOnews adds: The Ministry of Defense confirmed in a statement that reinforcements headed to the volatile Bala Murghab district in Badghis from the neighboring Herat province in the west of Afghanistan early on Friday morning.

The ministry said that the security forces have advanced in some parts of the district.

Taliban militants captured key parts of the Bala Murghab district late on Thursday night, including the municipality building and the main market of the district, sources acknowledged, adding that the Army base and the police headquarters remained under siege throughout the night.

Almost 500 troops are fighting an unknown number of Taliban militants in the district, said Abdul Aziz Beg, Head of Badghis Provincial Council.

Latest figures by local officials show that at least 36 members of the Afghan forces were killed in the clashes.

Other sources confirmed on Friday that airstrikes have started targeting Taliban militants in the district.

Jamshed Shahabi, a spokesman for Badghis governor, said the casualties of the Afghan forces are not as much high as reported.

He said that more than 30 Taliban militants have been killed in the clashes.

Last time, the district came under Taliban attack early in March and was under siege for more than two weeks, leaving more than two dozens of security forces dead and almost 28 of them gone missing.

This comes as the conflicts have intensified in different parts of the country with the arrival of the spring season – which is deemed as a usual fighting season for insurgents fighting the Afghan government forces.

President Ashraf Ghani on April 2 approved the annual security plan which encompasses boosting security and fighting insurgents.