Reuters International

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan (Reuters) - Exhausted Afghan security forces were surrounded on Friday by Taliban fighters in the capital of Afghanistan's south-central province of Uruzgan, a day after fighting off a concerted push by the militants, officials said.

The Taliban attack, in one of the country's top opium-producing areas, has exposed how thinly stretched Afghan security forces have become as they try to contain Islamist insurgents in other areas of the country.

Taliban insurgents had battled their way on Thursday to within a few hundred metres (yards) of key government buildings in Tarin Kot, the provincial capital home to as many as 70,000 people, while many local leaders fled to a nearby airport.

Bolstered by reinforcements and air support, Afghan troops pushed the Taliban out of the city by nightfall, but the situation remains serious, said Dost Mohammed Nayab, a spokesman for the Uruzgan governor.

"The Taliban are still in surrounding areas of the city," he said. "Our forces are exhausted and are running short of ammunition." 

Overnight clashes left at least seven dead on the government side and 30 among the Taliban, said Abdul Karim, head of the Uruzgan provincial council.

He accused the Taliban of using civilians as human shields, complicating efforts to drive out the insurgents. "It will take more attention and effort to clear all areas," he added.

The Taliban on Thursday rejected claims by government officials of high casualties among the attackers.

In a statement, the militant groups said its fighters had overrun more than a dozen checkpoints and seized many weapons and other equipment from retreating troops.

Photos posted online by the Taliban purport to show fighters looting and burning what appears to be a government military base.

At least 69 coalition troops died in Uruzgan during nearly a decade and a half of international military efforts to defeat the Taliban and other militant groups after 2001.

About 16,000 NATO and allied troops remain in Afghanistan, mostly in an advising and counterterrorism mission, but as of Thursday, U.S. officials said they had no troops in Uruzgan, nor had they conducted any air strikes.

The province is in a part of south-central Afghanistan long dominated by the Taliban and warlords who vie for access to its lucrative smuggling routes and illicit drug production.

(Reporting by Sayed Sarwar Amani; Writing by Josh Smith; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)


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