KABUL: Afghan villagers hanged four Taliban fighters from a tree after hundreds of militants launched a major offensive, officials said on Saturday, as security forces fought to recapture ground in the eastern province of Ghazni.
About 100 policemen, soldiers and civilians have been killed in clashes over the past week, with the Taliban beheading 12 of the victims, according to provincial officials.
This summer’s fighting season has seen worsening violence, with the Taliban pushing forward in several provinces as the government was deadlocked for months over disputed election results.
“In one village, local people hanged four fighters from a tree after capturing them as the army and soldiers made advances,” Ghazni deputy governor Mohammad Ali Ahmadi said.
“The Taliban have holed up in homes and are using locals as human shields. About 100 fighters are still in the main bazaar, but we hope to break their frontline soon.”
Nato’s International Security Assistance Force (Isaf) said it believed provincial officials were exaggerating the scale of the offensive, probably to encourage extra reinforcements to be sent to the remote region.
“It is the officials in western Ghazni who normally hugely overstate what is happening,” Isaf deputy commander General Carsten Jacobson told reporters. “The picture that we have is by far not as grim (as local officials say).”
Gen Carsten said Isaf was assisting Afghan forces with reconnaissance, and he rejected reports that some militants in Ghazni were aligned to the Islamic State (IS) group active in Syria and Iraq.
“We haven’t seen so far any credible proof — and we are watching that, of course, very carefully — of real manifestation of IS here in Afghanistan,” he said.
The attacks in the last week have focused on Ajristan district in Ghazni province, after recent Taliban offensives in Kandahar, Helmand and Logar.
Sediq Sediqqi, an interior ministry spokesman, said: “We have sent special forces, police and army as part of reinforcements to the district, and launched operations against the Taliban. “The villages will be cleared of the insurgents very soon.”
The Taliban issued a statement denying the beheadings in Ajristan, adding that “checkpoints around the district centre are falling one after the other”.
“Enemy claims that they have pushed back the mujahideen from their positions in Ghazni are complete lies,” the English-language statement said.