Afghan forces have fought to prevent a first major city from falling under the Taliban on Monday, while the United States and Britain accused the insurgents of “slaughtering civilians” in a city they recently attacked near the border with had taken Pakistan.
Taliban fighters attacked at least three provincial capitals – Lashkar Gah, Kandahar and Herat – overnight after a weekend of fierce fighting in which thousands of civilians fled the advancing militants.
Clashes raged in Helmand’s provincial capital, Lashkar Gah, where the Taliban launched coordinated attacks on the city center and prison – just hours after the government announced the deployment of hundreds of commandos in the area.
The war has intensified since early May, with the insurgents taking advantage of the final phase of the withdrawal of US-led foreign troops after nearly 20 years.
As the country’s security forces struggled to keep the Taliban at bay, President Ashraf Ghani blamed Washington for deteriorating security.
“The reason for our current situation is that the decision was made abruptly,” Ghani told parliament, referring to the withdrawal of foreign troops.
Ghani said he had warned Washington that the withdrawal would have “consequences”.
His comments came as the United States said it will take in thousands more Afghan refugees as violence ramps up across the country.
“In light of the increased violence by the Taliban, the US government is working to allow certain Afghans, including those who have worked with the United States, to resettle refugees,” the State Department said in a statement. .
Washington has already begun evacuating thousands of interpreters and their families who have worked for the military and embassy for the past two decades.
‘Life stands still’
The United States and Britain accused the Taliban on Monday of atrocities that could amount to “war crimes” in the town of Spin Boldak, which the insurgents captured along the border with Pakistan last month.
“The Taliban have massacred dozens of civilians in revenge killings. These killings could be war crimes,” the Washington and London embassies said in separate tweets.
“The Taliban leadership must be held accountable for the crimes of their fighters. If you can’t control your fighters now, you have nothing to do with governance later.”
The diplomatic flogging comes after the Independent Human Rights Commission of Afghanistan said the insurgents had indulged in revenge killings in Spin Boldak.
“After taking over the Spin Boldak district, the Taliban pursued and identified former and current government officials and killed these people who had no combat role in the conflict,” the group said, adding that at least 40 people had been killed by the Taliban. .
Meanwhile, fighting continued overnight in the southern Afghan city of Lashkar Gah as Afghan forces repulsed another Taliban attack.
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“Afghan troops on the ground and through air strikes have repulsed the attack,” the army said in Helmand.
Resident Hawa Malalai warned of a growing crisis in the city: “There has been fighting, power cuts, sick people in hospital, telecommunications networks are down. There are no medicines and pharmacies are closed.”
Medical charity Doctors Without Borders said the number of victims in Lashkar Gah is increasing.
“There have been relentless gunfire, airstrikes and mortars in densely populated areas. Houses are being bombed and many people have been seriously injured,” Sarah Leahy, the aid group coordinator for Helmand, said in a statement.
Helmand was for years at the center of the US and British military campaign in Afghanistan – only to have it slide deeper and deeper into instability.
The vast poppy fields in the province supply the bulk of the opium for the international heroin trade, making it a lucrative source of tax and money for the Taliban.
The loss of Lashkar Gah would be a huge strategic and psychological blow to the government, which has pledged to defend provincial capitals at all costs after losing much of the countryside to the Taliban over the summer.
Concerns about Afghan army
Fighting also intensified in some districts of Kandahar province, the rebels’ former bastion, and on the outskirts of the capital.
In the west, hundreds of commandos also defended Herat after days of fierce fighting.
Kabul has repeatedly dismissed the insurgents’ steady gains over the summer as lacking strategic value, but has largely failed to reverse their momentum.
The Taliban’s capture of a major city would take their current offensive to another level and fuel concerns about the Afghan military’s capabilities.
“If Afghan cities fall… the US decision to withdraw from Afghanistan will be remembered as one of the most glaring strategic blunders in US foreign policy,” Australia-based Afghanistan expert Nishank Motwani told AFP.
The Taliban have taken Afghan cities in the past, but have only kept them for a short time.