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Key Afghan City in Danger of Falling to the Taliban

KABUL, Afghanistan — An essential metropolis in Afghanistan’s south was at risk of falling to the Taliban on Saturday as their fighters pushed towards its heart regardless of concerted American and Afghan airstrikes in latest days.

Experiences from Lashkar Gah, capital of Helmand, a province the place the Taliban already managed a lot of the territory earlier than their latest offensive, had been dire: Folks had been fleeing their properties, a hospital within the metropolis had been bombed, and authorities reinforcements had been solely now arriving after days of delays.

“We’re simply ready for the Taliban to reach — there is no such thing as a expectation that the federal government will be capable of shield the town any extra,” mentioned Mohammadullah Barak, a resident.

What comes subsequent in Lashkar Gah is something however sure — the town has been on the point of a Taliban takeover on and off for greater than a decade. But when the rebel group seizes the town this time will probably be the primary provincial capital to fall to the Taliban since 2016.

The worsening scenario in Lashkar Gah is a extra acute model of what’s taking place in cities throughout the nation after the Taliban seized round half of Afghanistan’s 400-odd districts since U.S. and worldwide forces started withdrawing from the nation in Might.

Hundreds of civilians have been killed and wounded — the best quantity recorded for the Might-to-June interval for the reason that United Nations started monitoring these casualties in 2009. A minimum of 100,000 extra have been displaced from their properties.

On Saturday, preventing between rebel and authorities forces round Herat metropolis, a historically secure space within the nation’s west, edged dangerously near its periphery. Many retailers had been shuttered on Saturday and Herat’s airport remained closed to civilian journey for a 3rd day. On Friday, a U.N. compound there was attacked, and one in every of its guards was killed.

Taliban fighters additionally remained entrenched in neighborhoods in Kandahar, Afghanistan’s second-largest metropolis, within the nation’s south. In Kunduz metropolis, an financial hub on the Tajikistan border, efforts to root out the Taliban now garrisoned inside its partitions have stalled.

The federal government’s response to the insurgents’ latest victories has been piecemeal. Afghan forces have retaken some districts, however each the Afghan air power and its commando forces — which have been deployed to carry what territory stays as common military and police items retreat, give up or refuse to struggle — are exhausted.

Within the safety forces’ stead, the federal government has as soon as extra seemed to native militias to fill the gaps, a transfer harking back to the chaotic and ethnically divided civil conflict of the Nineteen Nineties that many Afghans now concern will return.

In Lashkar Gah, an Afghan navy officer mentioned authorities forces had requested reinforcements for days with out luck, and described the scenario as dire. Reinforcements started arriving on Saturday night, he mentioned.

In Might, Afghan and U.S. airstrikes pushed again an assault on the town, and some staunch Afghan military items held what territory they might after the native police fled. However this time there’s much less American air help, and Afghan protection officers had been frantically making an attempt to strengthen the cities below siege to stall the Taliban advance.

Simply north of Lashkar Gah, in a close-by city, the Taliban on Saturday hanged two males accused of kidnapping kids from the doorway gate for all to see — a troubling indicator that the insurgents’ hard-line rule of regulation was inching nearer to the provincial capital.

In an effort to interrupt the siege, Afghan plane bombed Taliban positions in neighborhoods throughout Lashkar Gah Friday evening, a tactic that just about at all times leads to civilian casualties when carried out in populated areas. Emergency Hospital, one of many primary surgical facilities within the metropolis, reported on social media Saturday that it was full.

Attaullah Afghan, the top of the provincial council in Helmand, mentioned the Afghan air power had bombed a personal hospital within the metropolis after the Taliban took shelter there, killing a civilian and wounding two others. A number of Taliban fighters had been additionally killed within the strike, he mentioned.

“Solely the middle of the town is freed from the Taliban,” mentioned Abdul Halim, a resident. “Town is locked and surrounded by the Taliban from all 4 fronts.”

Mr. Halim mentioned that the presence of U.S. plane, a part of a muted bombing marketing campaign launched by the U.S. navy earlier this month to gradual the Taliban’s advance and increase the morale of Afghan safety forces, has completed little to cease the preventing through the day.

“We do not know what will occur,” Mr. Halim mentioned.

Taimoor Shah reported from Kandahar. Asadulah Timory contributed from Herat.

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