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HERAT: The US and Afghan aircraft on Tuesday bombed Taliban positions in the city of Farah after insurgents launched a major attempt to capture the provincial capital, with fearful residents seeking shelter from explosions and gunfire.

Special forces from Kandahar and Herat were rushed to the city to take part in the fighting, which residents said began around midnight, and was still ongoing as darkness began to fall on Tuesday.

It was the latest in a series of attempts by the Taliban in the past three years to capture urban centres. Afghan forces have been struggling to hold back the resurgent militant group since the withdrawal of Nato combat forces at the end of 2014.

Afghan forces and Nato’s Resolute Support mission said that the government remained in control, but the Taliban also appeared confident, posting a flurry of social media updates throughout the day that purported to show their fighters in the city.

Farah province, which borders Iran, has been the scene of intense fighting in recent years, and there have long been fears that the city is vulnerable.

“The situation is very bad,” Satar Hussaini, a tribal elder in Farah, told AFP earlier.

“Heavy fighting is going on and Taliban are in the city but the police headquarters and NDS (the Afghan intelligence agency) have not fallen to them,” he said.

“NDS forces in their HQ are engaged in heavy clashes with the Taliban.” Another provincial council member, Dadullah Qani, confirmed Hussaini’s comments. Gunfire and explosions could be heard as he spoke to an AFP reporter by telephone.

The noise has “filled the city”, said one resident who gave his name as Bilal, adding that he could see smoke rising from the direction of a building housing the NDS.

Nato’s Resolute Support mission in Kabul tweeted that the Afghan army, supported by US airpower including A-10 Thunderbolts, was “on the offensive” and the city “remains under govt control”.

Defence ministry spokesman Mohammad Radmanish said US forces launched airstrikes, but added most of the strikes have been carried out by the Afghan air force.

“Pockets of the enemy resistance still remain... but our forces are battling the enemy with high morale,” he told AFP.

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

Published in Dawn, May 16th, 2018