Clashes rage in Afghanistan
Afghan government forces struggled against Taliban assaults on several major cities yesterday as the insurgents stepped up a nationwide offensive that saw a key airport in the south come under rocket fire overnight.
Hundreds of commandos were deployed to the western city of Herat while authorities in the southern city of Lashkar Gah called for more troops to rein in the assaults.
Fighting has surged across the country since early May when US-led foreign forces began a final withdrawal from Afghanistan that is now almost complete.
After seizing large tracts of rural territory and capturing key border crossings, the Taliban have started assaulting provincial capitals with gruelling onslaughts.
Flights out of Kandahar, Afghanistan's second-largest city and the former stronghold for the insurgents, were halted after rockets struck the airport before dawn.
Airport chief Massoud Pashtun said two rockets had hit the runway and repairs were underway with planes likely to resume service later yesterday.
The facility is vital to maintaining the logistics and air support needed to keep the Taliban from overrunning the city, while also providing aerial cover for large tracts of southern Afghanistan.
The attack came as the Taliban inched closer to overwhelming at least two other provincial capitals, including nearby Lashkar Gah in Helmand province.
Afghan security forces have increasingly relied on air strikes to push the militants back from cities even as they run the risk of hitting civilians in heavily populated areas.
Further west in Herat, fighting continued on the city's outskirts overnight with air strikes targeting Taliban positions, following another day of dramatic clashes between the insurgents and Afghan security forces bolstered by local militia fighters.
Herat provincial governor's spokesman Jailani Farhad said around 100 militant fighters had been killed in the attacks.
The government has repeatedly dismissed the militants' steady gains over the summer as lacking strategic value but has largely failed to reverse their momentum on the battlefield.