Taliban advances into Afghan city before being beaten back

Multiple blasts and gun battle in eastern Afghan city

KABUL-Fighting raged Tuesday between Taliban militants and Afghan government forces for control of a provincial capital near the Iranian border, local officials said, in a confrontation shaping up as a stern test of USA efforts to build an effective, local force.

The clashes started at about 2am early Tuesday after Taliban insurgents started clashes in the city, a member of the provincial council Dadullah Qane said, adding that "clashes are ongoing in several parts of the city and close to National Directorate of Security (NDS) department".

At least 10 insurgents and two members of the security forces had been killed so far, Defense Ministry spokesman Mohammad Radmnish said.

Zabihullah Mujahid, the Taliban spokesman said the Taliban has already claimed responsibility for the attacks.

The Taliban controls several nearby districts, but the USA and Afghan forces have been working to retake them.

"NDS forces in their headquarters are engaged in heavy clashes with the Taliban".

Violence has escalated across Afghanistan since the announcement of the Taliban's annual spring offensive last month and there have been heightened security fears around preparations for elections in October.

Around 100 commandoes joined government reinforcements to prevent the fall of Farah to the militants.

But inside the city residents reported clashes were continuing. "Gun battles, air strikes and explosions are taking place around the city", he told Xinhua earlier by phone.

The Taliban was asking the city's residents to stay in their homes and promising they wouldn't be harmed.

A Farah government official and several residents said security forces were engaged in police districts two and three, around four kilometres from the city centre.

"The sounds of explosions and gunfire have filled the city", one resident who gave his name as Bilal said, adding that he could see smoke rising from the direction of a building housing the NDS. The group said in April that this year's campaign, called 'Al Khandaq, ' is in response to US President Donald Trump's aggressive military strategy to force the militants into peace talks.

Farah is a poppy-growing province in a hard to reach part of Afghanistan which a section of the multi-billion-dollar TAPI (Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India) gas pipeline will traverse.

Farah has been the scene of intense fighting in recent years.

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