KABUL • The Taleban stormed into the capital of Afghanistan's central province of Uruzgan yesterday, triggering heavy fighting around government buildings as panicked residents scrambled to flee the fighting.
Militants had fought their way to within a few hundred metres of the governor's compound and police headquarters while gun battles spread in Tarin Kot, a city of about 70,000 people, said provincial police chief Wais Samim.
But by afternoon, officials said they had beaten off the attacks. Arriving reinforcements included General Abdul Raziq, a border police commander from the southern region of Kandahar with a fearsome reputation, said Mr Dost Mohammed Nayab, a spokesman for the governor of Uruzgan.
Aircraft and helicopters flew over the city, providing air support to embattled government troops, and the Taleban suffered heavy casualties, he added.
The fighting comes as the Taleban are threatening to capture Lashkar Gah in neighbouring Helmand province, and northern Kunduz. Leaders in Uruzgan had retreated to the airport, which houses an Afghan military base, according to a police official.
In Kabul, Mr Shah Hussain Murtazawi, a spokesman for President Ashraf Ghani, said: "Uruzgan will not turn into a terrorists' safe haven."
In separate phone interviews, 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 Taleban 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 Taleban released a statement promising government forces protection if they surrendered peacefully.
The city's prison had fallen to the advancing militants, but its occupants had previously been transferred to the airport, said Mr Abdul Karim, the head of the Uruzgan provincial council.
A spokesman for the US military command in Kabul said officials were monitoring the situation, but as of Wednesday, there were no coalition advisers in Uruzgan and no American air strikes had been conducted this week.
REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE