Kabul, Afghanistan Intense fighting in the western province of Herat in Afghanistan continued for a third day on Saturday, while the Taliban continued an attack to take home the eponymous capital of the province, with hundreds of thousands of people.
Residents fear that the group could enter Herat, the country’s third largest city, any day.
On Friday, the road to the Khwaja Abdullah Ansari International Airport, 10.5 km (6.5 miles) from the city, was the site of intense fighting between the Afghan national security forces and the Taliban.
Those fighting led to the death of a local military commander captured by the Taliban and the death of an Afghan security guard outside a United Nations compound near the airport.
Although security forces were able to recapture the airport road by Saturday afternoon, residents remain on the edge.
Sources in Herat said cars full of women and children could see from the Pol-e Pashto and Pol-e Malan areas to the provincial capital.
Both places are less than 10 km from the city. Security sources say the Taliban had hoped to use two bridges in the area to repel attacks from three sides.
A government official told Al Jazeera that Afghan forces had used airstrikes to defend Herat and that the United States, ready to withdraw all its troops by the end of August, was “paying close attention” to the situation in the province.
Musa, a member of a local volunteer fighter, known as a “Rebellion” in the province, told Al Jazeera that the fighting did not subside on Saturday and that people were scared even in the city.
“The Taliban continue to carry out assassinations and grenades,” he said. Other residents said several markets in the city remain closed as many people are too scared to go outside.
“The situation is very difficult at the moment due to terror from within,” Musa said, referring to allegations that Taliban supporters provided the group with information from the city.
The latest fighting in Herat is coming while the Taliban are also trying to get closer to the cities of Kandahar and Lashkar Gah in the south.
The Taliban launched a major offensive on Afghanistan in early May when US-led foreign forces began their final withdrawal.
For many Afghans, the Taliban’s efforts to take control of some of the country’s largest cities deny their claim that they are in favor of a political settlement to the twenty-year-long conflict.
‘Worse and worse’
For Herat residents, the warning signs of an intensifying fighting in recent weeks were clear as the Taliban continued to take over districts near the city.
Shoaib Khan, a local businessman, told Al Jazeera that he and his family had left the city for Kabul before the Eid al-Adha Holiday earlier in July.
“We could even see the situation getting worse and worse,” he said.
Khan’s family businesses in Herat have been left unattended for almost two weeks now.
“When we wanted to see if we could investigate, we could not, because the airport was closed,” Khan said. Traveling by road to Herat will require a journey of more than 14 hours on a road, which will make them susceptible to being stopped at a number of Taliban checkpoints.
Musa, the fighter, says the rebel forces and the army and police are fighting a brave battle, but that the number of Taliban fighters is ‘incredible’.
The Ministry of Defense claims that dozens of Taliban has been killed in Herat for the past two days.
Musa agrees, saying the number of Taliban killed in Herat outweighs the number of government forces killed in the fighting. Yet Musa says he is surprised at the number of Taliban fighters in the province.
‘They’re like ants. Once you kill them, more will appear. ”
The government official told Al Jazeera that the Taliban could currently have up to 1,000 fighters in Herat. Pictures shared online by insurgent forces claim numerous bodies belonging to the Taliban; However, the images could not be verified.
Rebel forces and residents of Herat told Al Jazeera that the Taliban were accused of ordering civilian homes on the outskirts of the city to stage their attacks. Residents in Kandahar last week also made similar allegations about Al Jazeera over the fighting near their city.
“The Taliban entering the people make it much harder for us, we have to be so much more careful,” a member of the security forces told Al Jazeera.
The insurgent forces, led by former anti-Soviet commander Ismail Khan, have been fighting with the security forces for several weeks now, but say they have not received the support promised by the Kabul government.
Khan said he spoke it Friday to Afghan President Ashraf Ghani. According to Khan, Ghani promised to send reinforcements, but on Saturday Khan said aid had not yet arrived.
The Ministry of Defense did not respond to Al Jazeera’s request for clarification on Khan’s claim.
But Musa says Khan is correct in his criticism.
“It was three days and three nights of fighting, but the rebel forces still did not get the weapons and ammunition they needed,” Musa said.
Khan’s presence on the battlefield led to a fierce word war online.
Many raised the former governor, who was, accused of abuse and corruption in the past, for his willingness to defend the city even in his seventies.
Other online accounts, apparently belonging to Taliban supporters, claim that Khan is trying to flee to Kabul as fighting escalates.