World News

Taliban Overrun Afghan City, Kill 30 People and Leave

Posted May 16, 2018 2:17 p.m. EDT

KABUL, Afghanistan — Taliban insurgents abandoned their effort to take over the capital of the western Afghan province of Farah, leaving the city early Wednesday without apparent opposition, local residents said.

Even with 25 members of the security forces and five civilians killed, officials immediately hailed the insurgents’ departure as a victory. They said that hundreds of insurgents had been killed in the one-day assault on Farah city and that the government’s response proved it could beat back any Taliban initiative to take and hold territory.

But for many Afghans, especially residents in battered Farah, the assault showed mostly that the insurgents could attack at will even against a well-entrenched government position backed up by both Afghan and U.S. air power.

“The Taliban managed to leave the city without a single shot being fired and the night was calm,” said Abdullah Khan, a resident reached by telephone. “It shows the utmost incompetence of our forces. The Taliban were wandering the Farah city streets openly without fear as if they had lived there a long time, making jokes with their friends and telling citizens to stay calm and not worry.”

A team of U.S. Army Special Forces commandos, accompanied by armed drones and A-10 ground attack jets, was dispatched to Farah to help Afghan forces push back the Taliban, according to U.S. military officials.

The decision to send the Green Beret soldiers into an area that is usually overseen by the Italian military echoes a similar tactic in October 2015 after the Taliban took control of the city of Kunduz. Then, the team of roughly 12 soldiers fought alongside their Afghan counterparts and helped call in airstrikes. The Green Berets were later found partly responsible for the Oct. 3, 2015, bombing of a Doctors Without Borders hospital, which killed at least 30 people.

Farah has come under repeated attack from the Taliban in recent years and it nearly fell to a determined assault in October 2016. Local officials have placed blame on support for the insurgents from Iran, which borders Farah province.

“Overrunning parts of Farah city was a big achievement for the Taliban,” said Atiqullah Amarkhel, a retired Afghan army general and military analyst in Kabul. “They showed their power to the whole world.”

That success would not have come, however, without support from Iran, Amarkhel said. “The main reason for the collapse of parts of Farah is Iran,” he said.

Najib Danish, spokesman for the Interior Ministry, declared the fighting over Wednesday, saying: “The whole Farah city is cleared from the Taliban. Around 300 members of the Taliban were killed in the fighting. House-to-house searching for the Taliban and clearance operation is underway.”

Gov. Basir Salangi of Farah province vowed revenge for the assault. “Security forces will follow the enemy in the districts as well and military operations will continue until the Taliban are defeated in the province,” he said. “The Taliban will pay the price for attacking Farah.”

But across the country, the insurgents were claiming more territory Wednesday. The Taliban said that two more areas had fallen to their fighters: Jaghatu district in Ghazni province in the country’s southeast and Dara-e Bom in Badghis province in the northwest, according to a WhatsApp statement from Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid.

In Badghis province, Faiz Mohammad, the deputy governor, denied the Taliban assertion on Dara-e Bom. “This area is in government control and the claims in this regard are untrue,” he said. Officials in Ghazni province could not immediately be reached.

But Mirza Ali, the departing governor of Qades district, which includes Dara-e Bom, confirmed that government forces abandoned their defense of Dara-e Bom against the Taliban late Tuesday night.

He said that there had been 360 soldiers and police guarding the strategic area but that all had fled without offering resistance, allowing the insurgents to take control.

Dadullah Qani, a provincial council member in Farah, said that the insurgents left the city after Afghan security forces began searching for them house by house and that they had left behind booby-trapped bombs.

Khan, the Farah resident, said that the insurgents mostly left homes and businesses alone, but that they did burn several cafes that served alcohol, leaving notes warning their owners against doing so. On a Facebook account that is often used to post material from the Taliban, a video apparently showed insurgents on Tuesday entering the police headquarters in Farah city and leading a handcuffed officer outside, before debating whether to shoot him.

The fighting in Farah was part of a recent increase in the tempo of attacks by the insurgents, since their announcement of a spring offensive late in April and their explicit rejection of Afghan government peace initiatives.

The insurgents now control about 14 of Afghanistan’s 407 districts, not counting their advances claimed Wednesday, with 46 other districts under the group’s influence, according to figures from a recent report by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, a U.S. government agency. A third of the population lives in areas controlled, influenced or contested by the Taliban, the report said.

Two districts fell to the insurgents last week, with one of them, Tala Wa Barfak, still in Taliban hands and blocking a strategic highway in Baghlan province in northern Afghanistan. About 200 Afghan police officers and soldiers have been killed in fighting in the past week, according to official accounts.