Fighting resumes in southern Afghanistan

With the end of Id ceasefire, Taliban fighters ‘attack checkpoints on the outskirts of Lashkar Gah’

May 16, 2021 10:08 pm | Updated May 22, 2021 07:23 pm IST - Kandahar

Fragile truce ends:  A file photo of Afghan security forces during a military operation in Arghandab district

Fragile truce ends: A file photo of Afghan security forces during a military operation in Arghandab district

Fighting between the Taliban and Afghan government forces resumed on Sunday in the restive southern province of Helmand, officials said, ending a three-day ceasefire agreed by the warring sides to mark the Id-ul-Fitr holiday.

Violence has soared as the U.S. military presses ahead with a plan to withdraw all of its troops by September, bringing an end to a 20-year military operation in Afghanistan.

“The fighting started early today and is still ongoing,” Attaullah Afghan, head of the Helmand provincial council, told AFP as a three-day temporary truce ended late on Saturday.

He said Taliban fighters attacked security checkpoints on the outskirts of Lashkar Gah, the capital of Helmand province, and some other districts.

‘Don’t blame us’

An Afghan Army spokesman in the south confirmed fighting had resumed, and the Helmand Governor’s office said that 21 Taliban fighters had been killed so far.

“They (Afghan forces) started the operation... do not put the blame on us,” Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid told AFP.

Washington has vowed to end America’s longest war but missed a May 1 deadline to pull out, as agreed with the Taliban last year in return for security guarantees and a promise to launch talks with the Afghan government.

President Joe Biden pushed back the date to September 11 — exactly two decades on from the terrorist attacks in the United States which led Washington to invade Afghanistan and oust the Taliban.

Tens of thousands of Afghans have been killed and millions have since been displaced by the conflict, which has seen a resurgent Taliban take hold of large swathes of the country.

Nishank Motwani, an independent Afghanistan expert based in Australia, said the Taliban viewed the American withdrawal as a win.

“It gives the insurgents a proclamation of victory, bookends their removal and eventual return to power, and signals that the end is in sight for the Afghan republic in its current state,” he said.

Government forces have continued to receive vital air support from U.S. warplanes, and there are concerns over whether they would be able to hold back the insurgents without Washington’s help.

“It is now going to be very difficult for us to conduct operations,” an Afghan army officer said.

“Our aircraft can’t fly at night so the night operations are going to be difficult.”

The truce was largely held during the Id holidays that ended on Saturday. The calm was, however, broken on Friday by a blast at a mosque on the outskirts of Kabul, which killed 12 people. The Islamic State group claimed responsibility for the blast, according to the SITE Intelligence Group, which monitors jihadist groups, .

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