Taliban ‘retreat’ as US, Afghan forces hold western city

Decline in strength of Afghan forces less sharp than thought: US watchdog



Afghan commandos and the US air force have driven the Taliban to the outskirts of Farah, officials said on Wednesday, after a day-long battle to prevent the insurgents from seizing control of the western provincial capital.

The US carried out more drone strikes overnight and the Afghan army is still clearing the city, Afghan and NATO officials said. Shops, offices and schools remain closed, with residents frightened to leave home after hours of heavy fighting. A NATO spokesman warned there could be more fighting Wednesday.

“The Taliban have retreated from the city and positioned their forces in the outskirts,” provincial council member Dadullah Qani told AFP from Farah on Wednesday.

Fighting continued late into the night, he said. “The city is still closed as people are in fear.”

With internet and mobile networks patchy, casualty figures were difficult to verify. On Tuesday, the defence ministry said four soldiers and “dozens” of insurgents had been killed.

Reinforcements including special forces were rushed in from Herat and Kandahar as the fighting began late Monday.

Aref Rezaee, a spokesman for the Afghan army’s 207th Corps, said that with their help the Taliban were forced from the city at around midnight, some 24 hours after residents told AFP the initial assault began.

“We have started a clearing operation. (NATO’S) RS (Resolute Support mission) forces are also deployed in Farah airport. They were involved in providing air support,” he said.

A Resolute Support spokesman said the fighting had been “subdued” overnight but was likely to pick up again Wednesday.

“We conduct(ed) a number of additional drone strikes throughout the night and continue to enable the (Afghan military), who remain squarely in the lead,” Lt Col Martin O’Donnell told AFP.

“The 207th Corps commander is leading operations on the ground and the city remains in government control.”

There had been reports that the militants were hiding in homes, meaning that the clearing operation was likely to be slow.

People remained fearful. “I want to open my shop today but they have planted land mines in some parts of the city,” Abdul Samad said.

Earlier a US watchdog has said that the strength of Afghanistan’s security forces has declined less sharply than previously reportedciting incorrect figures given by the American military last month.

The quarterly report from the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), released in April, had incorrectly stated that Afghan security forces had been depleted by about 10 percent over the course of a year.

Based on that figure, there were estimated to be 296,409 active military, police and intelligence personnel as of January 31.

But SIGAR said corrected figures from United States Forces-Afghanistan “indicate a total ANDSF (Afghan National Defence and Security Forces) strength of 313,728 as of Jan. 31”.

“The new numbers still show that overall ANDSF strength declined sharply from January 2017 to January 2018 (by 17,980 personnel), though not as sharply” as reported, the watchdog said.

The confusion was “the latest in a series of problems SIGAR” has faced regarding information about Afghan forces, it said. AFP





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