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Afghan forces digging in to defend cities

Fighting intensifies: Afghan commandos standing guard in Enjil district of Herat province on Sunday.   | Photo Credit: HOSHANG HASHIMI

Afghan forces fought fierce street battles and bombed Taliban positions on Sunday while insurgents swarmed major cities as they stepped up their nationwide offensive.

Hundreds of commandos were deployed to the western city of Herat while authorities in the southern city of Lashkar Gah called for more troops to rein in the assaults even as Afghan air strikes left scores dead on the streets, residents said.

Fighting has surged across Afghanistan since early May when U.S.-led foreign forces began a final withdrawal that is now almost complete.

After seizing large tracts of rural territory and capturing key border crossings, the Taliban have started assaulting provincial capitals.

In Kandahar, Afghanistan’s second-largest city and the former stronghold of the insurgents, days of fighting have displaced thousands of people who crowded into the city centre to escape the crossfire on the edge of the provincial capital.

Flights out of Kandahar were suspended on Sunday after two rockets hit the runway before dawn.

The facility is vital to maintaining the logistics and air support needed to keep the Taliban from overrunning the city, while also providing aerial cover for large tracts of southern Afghanistan.

Taliban claims attack

The Taliban claimed the attack, saying government warplanes were “bombarding” their positions from the airport.

The rocket barrage came as the Taliban inched closer to overwhelming at least two other provincial capitals, including nearby Lashkar Gah in Helmand province.

“Fighting is going on inside the city and we have asked for special forces to be deployed,” Ataullah Afghan, head of Helmand provincial council, said.

Afghan security forces have increasingly relied on air strikes to push the militants back from cities even as they run the risk of hitting civilians in populated areas.

“Every inch of the city has been bombed,” Badshah Khan, a resident of Lashkar Gah, said, adding the two warring sides were fighting “street to street” battles.

“You can see dead bodies on the streets. There are bodies of people in the main square,” he said, adding the Taliban had even surrounded the city’s police headquarters and Governor’s office.

“The threat is high in these three provinces... but we are determined to repel their attacks,” Afghan security forces spokesman Ajmal Omar Shinwari said.

The United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) demanded the Taliban “provide answers” for the rocket attack on its office in Herat on Friday that killed an Afghan guard.

The capture of any major urban centre would take their current offensive to another level and fuel concerns that the army is incapable of resisting the advances.

As fighting raged, President Ashraf Ghani again slammed the Taliban for failing to marshal their negotiating power to reach a peace deal.


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Printable version | Sep 29, 2021 5:30:34 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/international/afghan-forces-digging-in-to-defend-cities/article35669969.ece

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