Reuters International

By Mohamed Stanekzai

LASHKAR GAH, Afghanistan (Reuters) - Taliban forces have fought their way to within a few kilometres of the capital of Afghanistan's central province of Uruzgan, officials said on Wednesday, warning of its collapse unless authorities provide air support and ground reinforcements.

The Taliban are battling to topple the Western-backed government of Afghanistan 15 years after they lost power in a U.S.-led military operation.

Overstretched Afghan security forces and their foreign military advisers have focussed on blunting Taliban attacks in southern Helmand province and the northern city of Kunduz, besides battling Islamic State militants in eastern Nangarhar.

Many of the embattled police and soldiers around the Uruzgan capital of Tarin Kot are fighting with minimal reinforcements and often with insufficient food and ammunition, say regional officials.

"If there is no significant air support and ground reinforcement, Tarin Kot will collapse," warned Abdul Karim, head of the provincial capital.

Security forces have halted the Taliban advance about 2 km (1.2 miles) from the city's prison, whose prisoners the militants seek to free, officials suspect, using a tactic the Taliban employed when they briefly captured Kunduz last year.

In a posting online, the Taliban claimed to have overrun 15 government outposts, including a "strategic military base" in Uruzgan.

"All the surrounding areas of the capital are under tight siege and attacks of mujahideen," the group said.

Despite the Taliban offensives in Uruzgan, the NATO-led coalition, which declared its combat mission over at the end of 2014, said it had no advisers in the province, nor had U.S. warplanes conducted any air strikes in recent days.

The insurgents would not be able to break through security cordons, said Dost Mohammed Nayab, the spokesman of the provincial governor.

"The Taliban did whatever they could to get the capital city but they couldn’t," he said. "We are ready to defend our province."

At least 32 Taliban have been killed and another 23 wounded, Nayab said, with six security forces killed and nine wounded.

Taliban forces continue to threaten the Helmand capital of Lashkar Gah, where militants once again cut a major highway to neighbouring Kandahar, said Omar Zwak, the spokesman of the provincial governor.

Coalition advisers were recently sent back into the city to help police based there, but a U.S. military spokesman said the soldiers would have a non-combat role.

(Writing by Josh Smith; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)

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