The Afghan government has deployed Special Forces units to the strategic city of Ghazni, which has been the scene of intense fighting with the Taliban militants seeking to capture the strategic southeastern city.
President Ashraf Ghani announced the decision in a tweet in the early hours of Monday, saying “in order to consolidate operational gains, further reinforcements should be dispatched to the province [of the same name] on urgent basis.”
Ghani’s spokesman Haroon Chakhansuri also said in a Twitter message that the president had made the decision overnight following an emergency meeting on Sunday.
He said discussions were held on the issue with provincial governor, military officials and police forces.
Early on Friday, the militants began their attacks on Ghazni, which sits on a key road between the capital, Kabul, and Kandahar, Afghanistan’s second-largest city.
Locals say the militants are in control of much of the city.
Intense fighting has been underway since then, with both the government and the militants claiming to be in control.
The militants have damaged a telecommunications tower in the city, making it difficult to get news of what exactly is happening in the provincial capital.
Many people escaping the embattled city, however, described widespread destruction and bloodshed in the town.
The Afghan television station, Tolo News, also broadcast shaky phone footage apparently showing multiple fires raging across the blacked-out center.
Officials said the Taliban were using civilians as human shields in an attempt to prevent the security forces from launching airstrikes in the area.
“The militants know our forces will not attack civilians so they are using young men as human shields to walk around the city and set buildings on fire,” Reuters quoted one official as saying.
According to one security official, about 100 soldiers and police have been killed and many wounded as of Sunday.
He also said the casualties on the Taliban side have also been heavy, adding that about 50 militants were killed by an air strike late on Sunday.
The number of civilian casualties is not known yet. Officials at the Interior Ministry said at least 15 civilians had been killed and more than 400 wounded in the fighting.
But according to witnesses, who have made their way to Kabul, there were many bodies scattered in the streets.
The government has now come under intense criticism for its response to the crisis.
Officials in the city have been warning for months that the city could fall to the militants.
Many people on social media were calling on the president to resign.
“The whole of Ghazni province is on fire. President Ashraf Ghani must resign!” read a typical comment on Facebook.
According to Afghan officials, US Special Forces units were on the ground helping to coordinate air strikes and ground operations. US military headquarters in Kabul has, however, not confirmed.
Many areas of Ghazni Province have been heavily contested by the Taliban in recent years. The militant had earier seized control of the districts of Khawaja Omari, north of Ghazni city and Ajrestan, in the west of the province.
However, this is the first serious attempt by the Taliban to take the provincial capital.