A member of the Afghan border police fires at Taliban fighters hidden at… (Allauddin Khan, Associated…)
KABUL, Afghanistan — Fighting erupted for a second day Sunday between Taliban gunmen and Afghan security forces in the southern city of Kandahar, demonstrating the insurgents' determination to maintain a foothold in the city they consider their spiritual home.
Afghanistan's Interior Ministry said Sunday that the death toll in clashes that broke out a day earlier had risen to 25 -- all but two of them Taliban fighters. The Taliban brushed aside the lopsided toll, instead boasting that the fighting had all but paralyzed the country's second-largest city.
The confrontation began Saturday with an audacious attempt by dozens of insurgents to overrun half a dozen key installations across the city, including the governor's compound and the intelligence directorate. The fighting died down overnight, but started up again Sunday when security forces moved in to try to clear a hotel that the attackers had used as a staging ground.
Kandahar carries heavy symbolic weight for both sides. Western troops have spent much of the past year clearing the Taliban from strategic districts surrounding the city, and U.S. commanders hailed those operations as proof that the insurgency's momentum had been blunted.
Kandahar, however, has become a focus of insurgents' efforts to show that their movement has not been crushed. Taliban fighters have in recent weeks staged a series of high-profile attacks in and around the city, killing the provincial police in a suicide bombing and staging a spectacular jailbreak last month. The Taliban said many of those escapees were taking part in the current fighting.
Military progress in the south of Afghanistan is a centerpiece of the Obama administration's plan to begin drawing down U.S. forces in July. Currently, there are about 100,000 American troops in the country, making up about two-thirds of the NATO force.
There is a sprawling NATO base outside Kandahar, and a number of foreign forces are stationed in the city itself. But Western forces mainly played a supporting role in fending off the weekend attack, with the Afghan army and police taking the lead -- thus turning the confrontation into a test of their abilities.
Interior Ministry spokesman Zemari Bashary told reporters in Kabul that clearing insurgents was proceeding slowly because police and soldiers were trying to limit property damage and civilian casualties. Dozens of people were hurt in Saturday's clashes, including some women and children caught in the crossfire.
Special correspondent Aimal Yaqoubi in Kabul contributed to this report.