Afghan forces bomb Taliban fighters to repel assaults on key cities

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KANDAHAR (AFP): Afghan forces fought fierce street battles and bombed Taliban positions Sunday while insurgents swarmed major cities as they stepped up their nationwide offensive.

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 even as Afghan air strikes left scores dead on the streets, residents said.

Fighting has surged across Afghanistan since early May when US-led foreign forces began a final withdrawal that is now almost complete. After seizing large tracts of rural territory and capturing key border crossings, the Taliban have started assaulting provincial capitals.

Flights out of Kandahar, Afghanistan s second-largest city and the former stronghold of the insurgents, were suspended on Sunday after two rockets hit the runway before dawn. The Taliban claimed the attack, saying government warplanes were “bombarding” their positions from the airport.

Airport chief Massoud Pashtun said flights resumed later on Sunday after the runway was repaired. 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 rocket barrage came as the Taliban inched closer to overwhelming at least two other provincial capitals, including nearby Lashkar Gah in Helmand province. “Fighting is going on inside the city and we have asked for special forces to be deployed,” Ataullah Afghan, head of Helmand provincial council, told AFP.

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