Taliban's surprise attack forces government officials to flee provincial capital in Afghanistan

The insurgents' surprise attack left authorities in control only of Tirin Kot's police headquarters. In photo: Afghan police commander Seddiqullah, 30, at a checkpoint in Tarin Kot, on April 28, 2016. Photograph:( AFP )

PTI Kandahar, Afghanistan Sep 08, 2016, 10.20 AM (IST)
Taliban's surprise attack today triggered clashes within the capital of Afghanistan`s central province of Uruzgan, one of the top poppy-cultivating provinces in the country, threatening government offices as the leadership fled to the airport, officials said.

As the insurgents stormed into Tarin Kot, a city of about 70,000 people, a pitched battle ensued in the region prompting urgent calls from officials for reinforcements and air support, after the militants toppled security posts on the outskirts to breach the city gates.

Unfolding of attack 

The surprise attack left authorities in control only of Tirin Kot's police headquarters, which the Taliban were besieging since the morning hours, according to the provincial spokesman, Doost Mohammad Nayab, according to Indian news agency PTI.  

All the checkpoints around the city were overrun or destroyed, Nayab said elaborating about the attack. He did not provide a casualty toll but said he feared that the city will soon completely fall to the insurgents. 

The militants fought their way to within a few hundred metres of the governor's compound and police headquarters, provincial police chief Wais Samim was quoted as saying by Reuters. 

However, within hours, the Afghan ministry of defense said the Taliban had been repelled from Tirin Kot. 

In a statement online, the Taliban said their fighters had entered the city and overrun at least seven checkpoints as well as the prison, with city officials taking the prisoners as "hostages" and fleeing to the airport.

"Street to street clashes are currently taking place against the enemy inside the city," the statement said.

The militant offensive, and the apparent government collapse in some areas, was reminiscent of the Taliban's speedy but brief capture of Kunduz city last year, the first time the group had seized a provincial capital since after losing power in 2001.

Following the attack, leaders in Uruzgan had retreated to the airport, which houses an Afghan military base, a police official told Reuters pleading anonymity. 

Shah Hussain Murtazawi, a spokesman for President Ashraf Ghani, said reinforcements had arrived in Tarin Kot.

"Uruzgan will not turn into a terrorists' safe heaven," he said.

Blame game 

In separate phone interviews with Reuters, security officials were already assigning blame for the apparent collapse of the defences.

Police chief Samim said many of the city officers had made deals with the Taliban and left their checkpoints without a fight, while another police official accused the province's senior leadership of abandoning the city.

Late on Wednesday, the Taliban released a statement promising government forces protection if they surrendered peacefully.
Abdul Karim, head of the Uruzgan provincial council told the city's prison had fallen to the advancing militants, but its occupants had previously been transferred to the airport. 

(WION with inputs from agencies)