Farah on verge of collapse before US airstrikes
By J.P. LAWRENCE AND ZUBAIR BABAKARKHAIL | STARS AND STRIPES Published: May 16, 2018
The Taliban’s one-day assault on the capital of strategically important Farah province is over, as militant forces withdrew early Wednesday after intense strikes by U.S. and Afghan airpower.
Government forces defending the city of 55,000 people close to the Iranian border were on the brink of defeat Tuesday before Afghan and coalition airstrikes turned the tide, Afghan officials said.
Fighting continued outside of the city on Wednesday, but there have been no further airstrikes.
“There is not a single shooting in the city right now,” Gen. Mohammad Radmanish, Defense Ministry spokesman, said as of Wednesday morning. “The city is totally cleared and the enemy ran away 8 kilometers far from the city, but our forces are after them.”
A Taliban spokesman confirmed that the group had withdrawn but said that the raid had destroyed essential military supplies in the city.
The Taliban assaulted Farah from the west and north on Tuesday, several hours after midnight, Abdul Shakoor, a resident, told Stars and Stripes via phone.
Militants planned to attack prison and police and intelligence headquarters, said Khair Mohammad Noorzai, a member of the Farah provincial council. Their aim, he said, was to capture the city during Tuesday night.
The Taliban penetrated the city at 11 a.m. and advanced about a mile into the city center; once inside, they captured and set a police station and several government offices ablaze, Afghan officials said.
On Tuesday, U.S. officials were adamant that the Taliban had not entered the city, citing their aerial surveillance feeds. On Wednesday, a U.S. spokesman said the Taliban might have retreated before the surveillance arrived on the battlefield.
The Afghan military deployed troops, A-29s light-attack planes and Mi-17 helicopter gunships, while coalition forces dispatched A-10 Thunderbolt II ground-attack planes and MQ-9 Reaper drones. U.S. drone strikes killed 28 Taliban fighters, according to coalition spokesmen, as American and multinational advisers assisted Afghanistan’s 207th Corps by coordinating between U.S. and Afghan forces.
“The city would have fallen to the Taliban if the air force and additional ground forces hadn’t arrived sooner,” Noorzai said.
A coalition spokesman said the Afghan air force conducted most of the airstrikes.
“What you saw there in Farah, it’s clearly a force to be reckoned with, their ability to support themselves with their own airpower is something people discredited years ago,” Lt. Col. Martin O’Donnell said.
The Kabul government said about 100 Taliban fighters were killed and more than 200 were wounded in the firefight. Eleven government soldiers were killed and 12 were wounded. Local media, however, quoted Farah Gov. Basir Salangi as saying 25 members of the security forces died.
The Taliban claimed that they had killed 63 police officers and that just nine of their own fighters were killed and 11 were wounded.
“The main goal ... to crush the enemy and take their guns, ammunitions and vehicles was accomplished,” Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said in a message to the media Wednesday.
The attack on Farah was the first on a provincial capital this year. The Taliban now control much of Farah province, which is a key drug route from Taliban-held Helmand province in the south to the Iranian border in the west. Capture of the province would block the region’s main highway to Kabul.
The province was the target of U.S. airstrikes against narcotics facilities in April and Afghan air force strikes against the Taliban in March.
Taliban guerrillas have expanded their hold on many parts of Afghanistan over the past two years.
The Trump administration’s strategy of renewed aggression has led to a dramatic hike in the number of airstrikes. But the strikes have so far had limited success in curbing the Taliban campaign.