Clashes continue in Farah as Taliban renew attacks
By J.P. LAWRENCE | STARS AND STRIPES Published: May 17, 2018
Fighting resumed in the capital of strategically important Farah province Wednesday night as Taliban attacks prompted gunbattles and two U.S. drone strikes.
The clashes late Wednesday have subsided, and the city of 55,000 people is currently under government control, a coalition spokesman said early Thursday.
During the attack, the Taliban targeted the local police chief’s office, residents and officials told Kabul’s TOLO news channel. They said three suicide bombs were detonated near the police station and other government buildings.
Government forces are clearing the city of militants believed to be hiding in houses near government buildings, Naser Mehri, spokesman for the provincial governor said. The Taliban did not breach the prison and all prisoners remain secure, Mehri said.
The Taliban confirmed that their fighters had withdrawn Wednesday morning, only to return hours later with a renewed assault.
Some Taliban fighters hid in people’s houses, while others retreated from the city, said Khair Mohammad Noorzai, Farah provincial council member.
Afghan security forces searched houses but had to defuse booby traps left behind by the guerrillas, Noorzai said.
The Education Ministry said schools in Farah would remain closed until security improved.
The attack was the first on a provincial capital this year. The Taliban now control much of Farah province, a key drug route between the border with Iran and Taliban-held areas of Helmand province in the south. Capture of the provincial capital would block the region’s main highway to Kabul.
The attacks on Farah are similar to Taliban offensives that captured the provincial capital of Kunduz in 2015, said Thomas Ruttig, co-director of the Afghanistan Analysts Network. For five months militants staged constant attacks from the outskirts of Kunduz before a final rush to take the city.
“The Taliban have positioned themselves in Farah city’s suburbs for a long time, at least since 2016,” he said. “Their latest approach might be to expand from there into the cities themselves, as Afghan cities look more like villages in their outskirts, and the divide between city and countryside is not that clear.”
Hiding in the suburbs also means airstrikes against Taliban positions could lead to more civilian casualties, Ruttig added.
Afghan and coalition forces said airstrikes Tuesday night had driven the Taliban from Farah.
These airstrikes are like late-game touchdowns in a football game already lost, said retired Lt. Col. Dan Davis, a longtime critic of the coalition’s war effort who also sees similarities between Farah and Kunduz.
“Just because there are some small pieces of a win there, that doesn’t change that after 17 years of intensive and extremely expensive efforts, we’re not accomplishing anything on a strategic level,” he said.
Elsewhere in Afghanistan on Wednesday, the Taliban attacked security posts in three districts in Ghazni province, the Defense Ministry said. The ministry also reported 20 airstrikes and operations in 12 of 34 provinces.
Zubair Babakarkhail contributed to this report.