Afghan troops fight against Taliban attacks on major cities

Afghan government forces battled Taliban attacks on several major cities on Sunday as the insurgents mounted a nationwide offensive that left a key airport in the south under rocket fire overnight.

Hundreds of commandos were deployed in the western city of Herat, while authorities in the southern city of Lashkar Gah called for more troops to curb the attacks.

Fighting has intensified across the country in the months since early May, when US-led foreign troops began a final withdrawal from Afghanistan, which is now nearing completion.

After conquering large areas of the countryside and capturing key border crossings, the Taliban have begun besieging provincial capitals.

Flights from Kandahar, Afghanistan’s second-largest city and also the insurgent’s former bastion, were halted after the airport hit before dawn.

Airport chief Massoud Pashtun said two missiles had hit the runway and repairs are underway and planes are likely to return to service later on Sunday.

The facility is vital for maintaining the logistical and air support needed to prevent the Taliban from overrunning the city, while also providing aerial cover for large parts of southern Afghanistan.

The attack came as the Taliban moved closer to overrunning at least two other provincial capitals, including nearby Lashkar Gah in Helmand province.

“There is fighting going on in the city and we have asked for special forces in the city,” Ataullah Afghan, head of Helmand’s provincial council, told AFP.

Afghan security forces are increasingly relying on air strikes to push the militants back from cities, even as they risk hitting civilians in densely populated areas.

“The city is in the worst condition. I don’t know what will happen,” said Halim Karimi, a resident of Lashkar Gah, a city of 200,000.

“Neither the Taliban will have mercy on us, nor will the government stop bombing.”

Further west in the city of Herat, fighting continued overnight on the outskirts of the city with airstrikes on Taliban positions.

The spokesman for the provincial governor of Herat, Jailani Farhad, said about 100 militant fighters were killed in the attacks.

Both the Taliban and government forces tend to exaggerate their claims about casualties inflicted on each other’s forces, and it is difficult to independently verify that it is genuine.

On Sunday, the Defense Ministry said hundreds of commandos had been sent to Herat to help repel the insurgents.

“These troops will step up offensive operations and suppress the Taliban in Herat,” the ministry tweeted.

Increasing pressure

The Taliban’s rapid territorial gains during the final phase of the US military’s withdrawal have been taking place for months in sparsely populated rural areas.

But in recent weeks, they have put increasing pressure on provincial capitals and seized key border crossings.

The capture of a major urban center would take their current offensive to another level, fueling concerns that the military is unable to resist the Taliban advance on the battlefield.

The government has repeatedly dismissed the militant’s steady gains over the summer as lacking strategic value.

The Taliban have previously taken a few towns, but only managed to keep them briefly.

The insurgents captured Kunduz twice in 2015 and 2016, briefly taking control of the city of Ghazni after setting fire to key government buildings and destroying telecommunications towers.

In recent weeks, the Afghan government’s air force, backed by the US military, has given Kabul the greatest battlefield advantage over the Taliban and has so far largely prevented the insurgents from engulfing urban areas.

Despite being in the final phase of withdrawal, the US military has also launched airstrikes on the Taliban.

“The US military has been involved in a limited way, but in a significant way that affects meeting our obligations to defend Afghan forces when they are attacked,” top US envoy in Kabul told Ross Wilson this week. to reporters.

(AFP)

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