Taliban insurgents on Thursday were on the verge of overrunning the southern city of Tirin Kot, the capital of Oruzgan Province, Afghan officials and local elders said.
Dost Mohammad Nayab, a spokesman for the governor of Oruzgan, said that all security posts around the city had been overrun by the Taliban and that the insurgents had started firing on the police headquarters and the governor’s compound.
“The security forces are engaged with the Taliban inside the city, and fighting is ongoing,” Mr. Nayab said.
By late in the afternoon, however, Mr. Nayab said the situation had improved after NATO airstrikes began targeting Taliban positions. Additionally, Gen. Abdul Raziq, the powerful police chief of neighboring Kandahar Province, had arrived with other reinforcements and the central government had tasked him with leading the clean up operation, a spokesman for General Raziq said.
Marred by internal police chaos, Tirin Kot had long remained a vulnerable spot after its controversial police chief, Gen. Matiullah Khan, was gunned down in Kabul last year. General Khan had risen to power with generous support from NATO military contracts and political backing from the former president, Hamid Karzai, and although he kept the Taliban at bay, he was also accused of tribal favoritism and of using force against political rivals, which ultimately kept Oruzgan fragile.
The security deterioration has occurred amid a protracted struggle over the succession to become police chief. General Khan’s brother, Raheemullah Khan, demanded that he be appointed to the post, but the central government went to pains to persuade him to accept the compromise position of deputy police chief. Nevertheless, officials in the past have accused forces under him of giving up checkpoints to signal his discontent.
As Afghan forces rallied resources to counter the Taliban threat to the capital of neighboring Helmand Province, as well as the northern city of Kunduz, which the insurgents briefly overran last year, officials and elders warned that Tirin Kot was besieged.
Mr. Nayab said that 200 Afghan commandos arrived late Wednesday and were trying to stop the Taliban advance, but he bemoaned the early lack of air support from NATO.
Sediq Sediqqi, the spokesman for the Interior Ministry, said special forces from an elite task force based in neighboring Kandahar Province had reached Tirin Kot on Thursday morning.
Abdul Karim Khadimzai, who oversees the provincial council in Oruzgan, said the city was under lockdown, with only security forces visible on the streets. He said that the police chief and other officials had sought shelter at the airport, but the chief, Gen. Wais Samimi, said that he was still at the police headquarters.
“The Taliban warned the citizens to stay indoors, and they are going to enter the city,” Mr. Khadimzai said.
Officials in Oruzgan, including Mr. Khadimzai, pointed fingers at the police. They said more than 20 checkpoints had been abandoned overnight around Trin Kot city without a fight. Military officials in Kabul even suspected a conspiracy in the surrenders, which followed patterns that had brought the capital city of Helmand on the verge of collapse last month.
“The whereabouts of the police are not known, whether they have joined the Taliban or escaped somewhere,” Mr. Nayab said about the surrendered forces. “We are busy now with making plans to defeat the enemy but will need to investigate what made them leave the posts without fighting.”
A Taliban commander in Oruzgan, Mullah Hameedi, claimed the insurgents had taken control of the central prison there, only to find that the officials had already evacuated the inmates to the airport. But Mr. Sediqqi rejected that claim, saying that a Taliban assault on the prison Wednesday night was repelled