The US military helped Afghan troops repel a major Taliban attack on the Afghan provincial capital Farah on Tuesday and Wednesday that punctured the security perimeter surrounding the city, US and NATO officials tell CNN.
It was unclear how close the Taliban came to capturing the city, which would have represented a major blow to the Afghan government. The insurgents claimed they briefly seized the city center, while the NATO-led coalition said it saw no direct evidence that they ever made it into the city.
A spokesman for the coalition said the Taliban began their attack on government checkpoints on the city’s outskirts very early Tuesday morning, and that by the time US MQ-9 drones arrived overhead a couple of hours later there was no evidence of Taliban fighters in the city.
US A-10 attack jets also flew overhead but did not conduct any strikes.
“We have not confirmed that the Taliban entered the city,” Lt. Col. Martin O’Donnell told CNN.
However, a senior NATO military official acknowledged Wednesday that the attack on Farah “punctured” the security cordon surrounding the city.
“Absolutely we’re concerned,” the official said of the attack.
“We know that the (Afghan Security Forces) is in a big fight as we are trying to turn that tide,” he added.
O’Donnell said that during the day Tuesday there was “heavy fighting” between Taliban and Afghan forces about 3 kilometers – less than 2 miles – outside the city as both sides mounted attacks and counterattacks.
Afghan A-29 attack planes and Mi-17 helicopters carried out multiple airstrikes in defense of the city.
US military advisers eventually arrived in the city to assist Afghan military commanders at their headquarters, helping to call in drone strikes that killed some 28 Taliban fighters, according to O’Donnell.
He said US troops also arrived to advise Afghan commando units involved in the counterattack but did not participate in offensive operations.
O’Donnell said there were no international military advisers in the city of Farah prior to the assault and acknowledged that the attack may lead the coalition to send an advisory team to the city.
NATO and US officials have acknowledged that Afghan units without American or international military advisers have been much more susceptible to Taliban attacks. And the attack on Farah calls into question the government’s ability to defend cities without international support.
On Wednesday Gen. Curtis Scaparrotti, NATO supreme allied commander-Europe, acknowledged that member countries have still not met their requirements with regard to sending advisers to Afghanistan.
But a senior NATO military official told CNN that while 95% of the military contributions have been met, this still means there’s a shortfall of advisers in critical area, including for Special Operations Forces and aviation.
Officials have said that US military advisers have only just started to advise Afghan forces at the battalion level, something that was seen a a key part of the Trump administration’s strategy for Afghanistan and the wider region. The delay in getting troops closer to the front lines has been seen as undermining that strategy.