World

Taliban surround Afghan city as commandos launch counterattack

Taliban fighters on motorbikes roamed a provincial Afghan capital on Thursday (Jul 8) after a day of heavy fighting that saw them storm the city in their most brazen assault since the United States stepped up its troop withdrawal.

The government flew in hundreds of commandos to Qala-i-Naw in Badghis, the first provincial capital to face an all-out assault by the Taliban since May 1 when the insurgents launched a blistering campaign to capture new territory.

With the US troop pull-out "90 per cent complete", according to the Pentagon, fears are mounting that Afghan forces will be stretched without the vital air support of the US military.

Residents in Qala-i-Naw had either fled the city or stayed indoors on Thursday after more than 24 hours of intense fighting that saw the Afghan air force launch strikes on Taliban positions.

"The Taliban are still in the city," resident Aziz Tawakoli told AFP.

"You can see them going up and down the streets on their motorcycles."

He said that many of the city's 75,000 people had fled their homes - either to neighbouring districts or to Herat.

"The shops are closed and there is hardly anyone on the streets," Tawakoli said, adding that helicopters and planes had bombed Taliban targets through the night.

Badghis provincial council member Zia Gul Habibi said that the Taliban suffered casualties, but also surrounded the city.

"All districts are under their control ... People are really in fear," she said.

"All shops and government institutions are closed. There are still reports of sporadic fighting."