Fierce fighting: Taliban threatens southern Afghan city, civilians flee
Lashkar Gah (Afghanistan):
Taliban forces advanced on the capital of the volatile southern Afghan province
of Helmand on Tuesday amid fierce fighting with government forces that
threatened to cut off a major highway and prompted many families to flee.
The fighting near the
town of Lashkar Gah comes three weeks after the Taliban won its biggest victory
in the 14-year war, capturing the northern town of Kunduz and holding the city
centre for three days before government forces regained control.
appears to be under serious military pressure,” a Western official said. “We're
hearing reports about civilians fleeing in large numbers.”
Helmand province is one
of the world's biggest centres of opium cultivation, with a complex mix of
warring tribal groups and Taliban insurgents creating a chronic problem for the
Mirza Khan Rahimi said heavy fighting had been going on for two days in the
district of Gereshk to the north of the city. The fighting has threatened
Highway One, the main transport artery linking the major southern city of
Kandahar with Herat.
Farhad Dawary, head of
the local Civil Societies Union, which represents non-government social organisations,
said that after days of fighting, families were both fleeing to Lashkar Gah
from outlying areas and trying to escape from the city.
“There is fear among
the people in Lashkar Gah, there are lots of rumours the city might fall,” he
said Lashkar Gah would not fall but one security source said the town of Baba
Ji, to the north of the provincial capital had fallen and the Taliban itself
said it was making major advances.
"The fighting is
ongoing in full force and we have killed 25 government forces and seized a
number of weapons," said spokesman Qari Yousuf Ahmadi.
The fall of Kunduz at
the end of last month came as a profound shock in Afghanistan, piling pressure
on the government of President Ashraf Ghani and raising questions over the
capacity of security forces to maintain stability.
forces, which have taken on the bulk of fighting since international troops
ended most combat operations last year, have struggled to contain the Taliban,
which has stretched the army in a series of operations across the country.
As the battle continued
near Lashkar Gah, there were also reports of heavy fighting in the Ghurian
district near the major western city of Herat.
The Taliban raised
their flag in the main district centre for a few hours before police
reinforcements arrived and cleared them out, Herat police chief, General Abdul
Majid Rozi said.
As the fighting flared,
Ghani chaired a meeting of the National Security Council and ordered military
forces to step up combat operations against the insurgency.
Having briefly taken
Kunduz at the end of September, the Taliban last week threatened the city of
Ghazni, southwest of Kabul, cutting off the main route between Kabul and
Kandahar for three days.
Earlier this week, they
were also reported to have overrun the district of Ghormach in Faryab province
on the northern border with Turkmenistan.
security situation prompted U.S. President Barack Obama last week to delay
plans to pull American forces out of the country next year, with at least 5,500
troops now due to remain after 2017. (Reuters)