Taliban battle into west Afghan city in new crisis for government

Canadian soldiers patrol an area in the Dand district of southern Afghanistan on Sunday

"Heavy fighting continues inside the city and aircraft have just started bombarding Taliban positions", local provincial council member Jamila Amini told AFP.

"We are stuck at our homes, we can not go out, and everyone is in great fear", he said. Officials have warned of a deteriorating security situation as insurgents have entered the capital several times.

Poor coordination among security forces and the Taliban's access to more sophisticated weapons have been cited as major factors in the militants' advance.

He said the attack happened late Monday night in Puli Alim the capital of the province. The insurgents failed to capture a single capital a year ago - a fact frequently touted by USA and North Atlantic Treaty Organisation officials.

"Security checkpoints around the city have collapsed into the hands of the Taliban, causing high casualties among security forces", Bakhtawer said. At least eight insurgents had been killed and three wounded, it said.

"Government reinforcements have arrived including around 100 commando forces".

The Taliban urged residents to stay indoors and vowed not to harm anyone.

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Attackers overran several security checkpoints in the city, and heavy fighting was under way on Tuesday, provincial official Fared Bakhtawer said.

"Mujahideen have nothing to do with civilians, only military positions are the target", Ahmadi said in a statement on Tuesday.

A spokesman for the Taliban said in an online message that the insurgents had taken most of the provincial capital.

The United States' renewed campaign against the Taliban has so far failed to curb the group's advance, which has occurred largely in rural areas, and the militants maintain strongholds throughout the south.

The Taliban are stepping up their spring offensive, in an apparent rejection of a peace talks overture from the government.

The province has been the scene of heavy clashes between Taliban and security forces over the past few months.

Local media reported that the militants take control of several government offices, including the provincial department of National Security Directorate (NDS), the country's intelligence agency. Local officials as well as tribal elders requested additional forces from the central government and more security from the province. The Taliban urged the Afghan nation to boycott the elections and said that the country was "occupied" by foreign forces.

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