The Afghan army stepped up its presence in the city on Saturday, bringing in special forces, according to a tweet from the 215 Corps, an army unit. He also carried out airstrikes against Taliban positions.
Lashkar Gah lies on strategic routes in all directions, including the highway between Kandahar and Herat and important agricultural areas south of the city. The Taliban have long had a strong presence in Helmand province, including around the capital, but have not occupied any part of the capital since their overthrow in 2001.
If Lashkar Gah were to fall into the hands of the Taliban, it would be the first of 34 Afghan provincial capitals to be lost to the government. But several more are surrounded by the Taliban, who also control several major highways across Afghanistan.
The Taliban accused a “mercenary enemy” of killing civilians in an airstrike on the Seventh District of Lashkar Gah, an area that has seen heavy clashes. Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid tweeted that “many houses have been destroyed and people have suffered heavy financial losses”. There was no way to confirm the Taliban’s claim.
The Afghan army has spoken of heavy fighting in Lashkar Gah, with the 215th Corps tweeting on Saturday evening that 51 Taliban were killed and 40 others wounded in operations on the outskirts of the city.
In its latest bulletin, the Afghan Defense Ministry reports fighting in 13 provinces and says 254 Taliban have been killed in the past day.
Herat province in northwestern Afghanistan has seen heavy fighting. The Defense Ministry tweeted on Sunday: “Hundreds of special forces have arrived in Herat province! These forces will intensify offensive operations and suppress the Taliban in Herat. The security situation in the province will improve soon. ”
In apparent recognition of the gravity of the situation in Herat, the Interior Ministry said Deputy Interior Minister General Abdul Rahman Rahman arrived there with special police forces.
Videos released on Saturday indicate that the Taliban now control the road connecting the capital – also known as Herat – to its airport. A local reporter told CNN on Sunday that the Taliban controlled much of the Goazara district near the airport and had also taken Karoakh east.
The airport itself remains in the hands of the government.
US pulls out, Taliban steps in
After nearly 20 years in Afghanistan, the US military, under the leadership of President Joe Biden, is withdrawing its troops from the country, ending America’s longest war.
The Pentagon has said about 95 percent of U.S. troops have left and the Taliban quickly expanded their presence to large swathes of the country. The speed at which Afghan security forces have lost control to the Taliban has shocked many and raised fears that the capital, Kabul, will be the next to fall. All foreign forces are expected to leave Afghanistan by August 31.
According to the Long War Journal, a US nonprofit organization that tracks control of territory in Afghanistan, the Taliban now control 13 of 16 districts in Herat province. Most of his winnings came in July.
Across the country, the Taliban control 223 districts, of which 116 are disputed, and the government holds 68, according to the Long War Journal, whose calculations match CNN’s estimates. It indicates that 17 of the 34 provincial capitals are directly threatened by the Taliban.
The vast majority of the Taliban’s gains have come since the withdrawal of US forces began in May, after President Biden announced that all US combat forces would leave Afghanistan by the end of August.
Bill Roggio, who publishes the Long War Journal, said on Saturday that “the withdrawal of US air assets, which provided more than 80% of the combat power to fight the Taliban, and civilian contractors to provide maintenance, as well as l attrition in combat has put enormous pressure on the Afghan Air Force. “
The worsening security situation in Afghanistan following the withdrawal of foreign troops and advances by the Taliban has forced an estimated 294,000 people from their homes since January, the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) reported on July 21, bringing the total number of IDPs to over 3.5 million.
In June alone, 77,000 people were displaced, UNHCR said.
The UN warned in a new report released on July 26 that civilian casualties in Afghanistan in the first half of 2021 have reached “record levels”, including “a particularly sharp increase in the number of deaths and injuries since May, date on which the international military forces began to withdraw and the fighting ”. intensified.
The United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) has recorded 5,183 civilian casualties (1,659 killed and 3,524 injured) since the start of 2021, an increase of 47% compared to the same period in 2020.
“Without a significant de-escalation in violence, Afghanistan is on track for 2021 to record the highest number of documented civilian casualties in a single year since UNAMA records began” in 2009, said the UN in a press release.