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Taliban Battles Afghan Forces On Outskirts Of Herat City, UN Compound Attacked

Afghan security personnel guard a checkpoint in the Guzara district in Herat on July 30.

HERAT, Afghanistan -- Fighting between the Taliban and Afghan security forces was reported July 30 on the outskirts of the western city of Herat, the capital of Herat Province.

The Taliban claimed its fighters entered part of the provincial capital. But Afghan officials in Kabul rejected that claim, saying a Taliban advance was repelled.

The reports come as the Taliban continues to seize territory across Afghanistan while U.S. and other foreign forces near the completion of their withdrawal from the country.

Afghan Interior Ministry spokesman Mirwais Stanekzai told RFE/RL's Radio Azadi on the evening of July 30 that the districts of Enjel and Gozara, adjacent to the provincial capital, were both under the control of government forces and that the "outskirts of the city of Herat also has been cleared of Taliban."

"Dozens of villages have been cleared," Stanekzai told Radio Azadi, adding that the Taliban "were defeated intensively."

"Their death toll is also very high," Stanekzai said. "At the moment, the Gozara and Enjel districts are in our control. Both districts are near the city of Herat -- located at the entry point of the city.”

Fawad Aman, deputy spokesman of the Afghan Defense Ministry, told Radio Azadi that Afghan security and defense forces "defeated Taliban and repelled their attacks in the provinces of Herat, Kandahar, Helmand, and Takhar."

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"They were defeated on the outskirts of Herat city," Aman said. "Taliqan, the capital city of Takhar Province, also was cleared of Taliban. On the outskirts of Kandahar city, the Afghan security forces have launched offensive operations. Inshallah, the situation will get better."

Reuters quotes one Afghan government official on July 30 as saying that government forces have been able to hold back the Taliban's advance into Herat city with the help of air strikes. Speaking on condition of anonymity, that Afghan official said the operations were hampered by the presence of civilians in the area.

UN Compound Under Attack

Meanwhile, the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) said one security guard was killed when the UN compound in Herat came under attack on July 30.

The United Nations said after the attack that it was urgently seeking to establish a full picture of the assault.

It said the attackers fired guns and rocket-propelled grenade launchers at entrances to the compound that were clearly marked as the gates of a UN facility.

“This attack against the United Nations is deplorable and we condemn it in the strongest terms,” said Deborah Lyons, the UN special representative for Afghanistan. “The perpetrators of this attack must be identified and brought to account."

U.S. State Department spokeswoman Jalina Porter condemned what she described as an "attack on the UN compound in Herat by anti-government militants."

"We continue to call for an immediate end to this ongoing violence in Afghanistan," Porter told reporters in Washington.

The chairwoman of Afghanistan's Independent Human Rights Commission, Shaharzad Akbar, said the attack on the UN compound could amount to a war crime.

“Reading the news and my heart is burning,” Akbar said on Twitter. “Thinking about everyone who is living in fear at this moment in Afghanistan. Every family that can’t even plan for tomorrow. All the terrorized children. What has war brought us but misery, suffering, uncertainty, and dependency?”

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said that security guards “could have sustained injuries in a cross fire due to close proximity of the [UN] office to the fighting."

In a Twitter statement on July 30, Mujahid said Taliban fighters have "arrived at the scene" and that the UN compound is "not under any threat."

The Taliban has already captured most districts in the province of Herat, which borders Iran.

If confirmed, even a brief advance by the Taliban into Herat city would mark the second provincial capital to be entered by the militants within 24 hours.

The Taliban on July 29 entered Lashkargah, the capital of the southern province of Helmand, with fighting reportedly continuing there on July 30 as civilians fled.

The Taliban has overrun dozens of districts and seized several strategic border crossings during the last two months.

Earlier on July 30, UNAMA expressed deep concern about fighting in and around the southern city of Kandahar. It warned of grave consequences for civilians.

A senior government official in Kandahar told Reuters on condition of anonymity on July 30 that fighting between the Taliban and Afghan security forces had reached the central parts of the city, adding that residents fear the Taliban could take over the city.

Human Rights Watch warned on July 30 that Taliban fighters are targeting their known critics with "revenge attacks" in territory that the militants have recently seized, despite claiming they have ordered their fighters to act with restraint.

"In Kandahar, the Taliban have been detaining and executing suspected members of the provincial government and security forces, and in some cases their relatives," the U.S.-based rights group said.

This story is based on reporting by RFE/RL's Radio Azadi correspondents on the ground in Afghanistan. Their names are being withheld for their protection.
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