The Taliban have launched a concerted attack on the city of Lashkar Gah the capital of the province of Helmand in Afghanistan. Taliban have surrounded the city for weeks.
The Afghan government has deployed 300 elite commandos to the city to stop the Taliban advance. Spokesperson for the province ,Omar Zwak, said the commandos were sent from Kabul and neighbouring provinces to begin a “clearance operation” in Lashkar Gah: “Soon the security forces will clear the whole city from Taliban." Officials in the city were less optimistic. Thousands of people have already fled the city but thousands more who fled to the city to escape the city now find themselves trapped. Lashkar Gah is a city of about 200,000 people. The Taliban have seized parts of the city. They are said to be within two kilometers of the governor's compound. The airport has been closed.
Across the city on Monday, Taliban attacked checkpoints. A suicide attack killed 14 people including 10 police officers. Provincial council chief Karim Atal said: "If we don't receive help from the central government, the province will collapse soon."
Last October, the Taliban briefly held the northern city of Kunduz but were eventually driven out. However, Kunduz too has recently been under attack again. A third city, Tarin Kowt, the capital of Oruzgan province is also under attack.
The attacks are happening as divisions are appearing within the Afghan government. Davood Moradian of the Afghan Institute of Strategic Studies said:“The national unity government has stagnated, and that stagnation has created a vacuum. The political basis of the government is shrinking on a daily basis, and I don’t see any chance of that being reversed. There are two forces that can fill that vacuum — one is the Taliban, and the other is President Karzai.”The attacks also follow upon a recent meeting in Brussels at which 70 nations pledged almost $20 billion (US) in aid to keep Afghanistan afloat until 2020.
The fighting in the countryside has sent at least 10,000 internally displaced Afghans to Kabul the capital and other places. BBC South Asia correspondent, Jill McGivering said if the city falls it will be a symbolic disaster:"For the past fifteen years, Lashkar Gah has been held up by the west as a safe, protected seat of government - a focus for international development, a weapon in the battle for hearts and minds. In terms of its propaganda value too, the government and its backers simply can't afford to lose it."
Taliban forces are converging on the capital of Uruzgan province, the city of Tarin Kot. Uruzgan is a central province of Afghanistan.
A report from Reuters claimed that the Taliban were within a few kilometers of Tarin Kot . Officials warned that it would collapse unless there was air support and ground reinforcement. A more recent report from the New York TImes indicates the Taliban had advanced further. Dost Mohammad Nayab, a spokesperson for the governor of Uruzgan said that all security posts around the city had been taken over by the Taliban and they had begun firing on the police headquarters and government compound. However, he also said that 200 Afghan commandos arrived late on Wednesday, but so far there had been no air support from NATO. A spokesperson for the Interior Ministry, Sediq Sediqqi, said that special forces from an elite task force in Kandahar had reached the capital by Thursday morning. Presumably these are the commandos mentioned earlier.
Abdul Khadimzai of the provincial council said the city was under lockdown, with only security forces on the streets. He also said that the police chief and other officials had sought shelter at the airport. However, Gen Wais Samimi, the police chief said he was sill at headquarters. Khadimzai, said the Taliban had issued warnings that they would be entering the city.
Uruzgan officials and Mr. Khadimzai blamed the police for abandoning 20 checkpoints without a fight overnight. Military officials in Kabul fear there was a conspiracy.Mr. Nayab said: “The whereabouts of the police are not known, whether they have joined the Taliban or escaped somewhere. We are busy now with making plans to defeat the enemy but will need to investigate what made them leave the posts without fighting.”
There are conflicting statements from the two sides. A Taliban commander Mullah Hameedi claimed that they had taken control of the central prison only to find that inmates had been taken to the airport. However, Sediqqi of the Interior Ministry claimed that a Taliban attack on the prison had been repelled.
By late Thursday afternoon Nayab said the situation was improving as NATO airstrikes between hitting Taliban positions. Also, General Abdul Raziq the powerful police chief from neighboring Kandahar province had arrived with reinforcements. Tarin Kot is said to have about 70,000 inhabitants.
After a fierce three-day battle, 110 police in a major police base in Badakshan surrendered to Taliban attackers. This is the largest surrender of Afghan forces to the Taliban in years. Police officials blamed the surrender on the government which failed to send sufficient reinforcements to fend off the Taliban.
The surrender was not without conditions.
The police agreed to surrender and be disarmed but were then all released leaving the base under control of the Taliban. While the main strength of the Taliban is in the south, the Taliban have lately extended their influence in the north and now control territory there.
The area where the base is located is isolated and has been cut off from the rest of Afghanistan by heavy rains that made it difficult for the government to send in reinforcements quickly. Much of the Taliban "Spring Offensive" focused on the north.
However, the Taliban have also been active in areas in the south where they have always been strong. In June they raided a series of checkpoints in Helmand in the south killing at least 20 police officers.
Both US and Afghan officials estimated in June that 330 Afghan soldiers and police were killed or wounded each week since the Spring Offensive began. This is a 70 percent increase for the first 15 weeks of conflict compared to last year.
As fighting goes on, there are also ongoing peace talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government hosted by Pakistan. The second round of talks is scheduled for July 31. There had been some speculation that the next venue would be in China, or Qatar where the Taliban have a political office. The first round of talks was on July 7th in Pakistan.
NEWTEKWORLDNEWS Afghanistan update:
Wednesday BBC news are reporting the death of the leader of the Afghan Taliban, Mullah Mohammed Omar.
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Ken is a retired philosophy professor living in the boondocks of Manitoba, Canada, with his Filipina wife. He enjoys reading the news and writing articles. Politically Ken is on the far left of the political spectrum on many issues.