Fighting has escalated across Afghanistan after the withdrawal of US troops emboldened Taliban militants to close in on major cities.
20 years after they initially ousted the Taliban in 2001, Western forces have withdrawn troops from Afghanistan. In the last two months the Islamist group have made major advances.
Taliban militants have expanded their presence beyond traditional strongholds in remote southern regions to full control in cities across the north, north-eastern and central provinces. In recent weeks they have closed in on the major cities of Herat, Kanahar and Lashkar Gah.
Fighting has erupted in Lashkar Gah, the capital of Afghanistan’s Helmand Province; the centrepiece of the US and British military campaign. If the city fell, it would be the first provincial capital won by the Taliban since 2016.
The US has continued it’s support of government forces in the region. On Monday US forces conducted aerial strikes on Lashkar Gah. According to the Afghan Ministry of Defence, over 40 Taliban terrorists were killed, though civilian casualties have not yet been confirmed.
General Sami Sadat is leading the battle against Taliban militia in the Helmand province. He told the BBC today that he is confident the Taliban will not take Lashkar Gah, as their forces would not be able to sustain the government’s assault.
However, he warned of a new threat emerging as the Taliban continue to gain reinforcement from other Islamist groups.
“This will increase the hope for small extremist groups to mobilise in the cities of Europe and America, and will have a devastating effect on global security,” he said.
In other provinces across the country the situation on the ground is fluid and changing rapidly.
Attempts to capture Afghanistan’s second largest city Kandahar have continued after rocket strikes hit the city’s airport on Sunday. Seizing Kandahar would give the Taliban control of Afghanistan’s southern region.
The battle between government commandos and Islamist insurgents continues in the besieged western city of Herat after a UN compound was attacked on Friday. Government forces have taken back some areas.
BBC statistics released last week report over 1,600 civilian deaths and 300,000 displacements since the start of the year. The UN blames the Taliban and other government elements.
Afghanistan’s President Ashraf Ghani holds the sudden withdrawal of US troops responsible for the increase in Taliban invasions.
“The reason for our current situation is that the decision was taken abruptly,” he told parliament.
The US State Department said yesterday it would be launching a new program to resettle Afghans targeted for their affiliations with the US. Reuters reported earlier on Monday the plans to set up the “Priority Two” refugee program, covering Afghans who worked for U.S.-funded projects and for U.S.-based non-government bodies and media outlets.