Afghan air strikes hit Taliban in south as fighting for ground intensifies

Defence ministry says air strikes were carried out across Afghanistan, including in the southern Helmand province, where the provincial capital of Lashkar Gah is being fiercely contested

In this file photo taken on March 25, 2021 Afghan National Army (ANA) soldiers unload an Afghan Air Force Black Hawk helicopter at the hydroelectric Kajaki Dam in Kajaki, northeast of Helmand province. (AFP)

The Afghan government has launched air strikes, targeting the Taliban in the south as fighting for territorial control continued between both sides across the country.

The Afghan defence ministry said in statement on Thursday that air strikes were carried out on Taliban positions, including in the southern Helmand province, where the provincial capital of Lashkar Gah is being fiercely contested.

The Taliban control nine of the city’s 10 police districts.

The United Nations and Human Rights Watch urged both sides to avoid causing civilian casualties as the fighting rages on.

The European Union on Thursday condemned the Taliban’s latest deadly attacks in Afghanistan and demanded “an urgent, comprehensive and permanent ceasefire”.

In a statement, EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell and EU commissioner for aid and crisis management Janez Lenarcic accused the Taliban of breaking its promise to seek a negotiated peace.

“This senseless violence is inflicting immense suffering upon Afghan citizens and is increasing the number of internally displaced persons in search of safety and shelter,” they said.

“The Taliban’s military offensive is in direct contradiction to their stated commitment to a negotiated settlement of the conflict and the Doha peace process,” the statement continued.

The Taliban has been on the offensive in recent months, as US and NATO forces complete their pullout from the war-torn country. They have taken vast swaths of land and have now turned their guns on larger urban centres.

Residents in Lashkar Gah reported heavy bombing near the government radio and television station, which is under Taliban control.

Several wedding halls and a guesthouse of the provincial governor are located near the radio and television station.

IDP influx in Kandahar

The fighting has driven thousands of people from Kandahar and Helmand provinces in the south to seek refuge in Kandahar city, which is under siege by the Taliban.

Government forces control only three of Kandahar province’s 17 districts.

The battle for the city remains at a stalemate despite days of ground and air operations.

Most of the markets are closed, and people in the four displacement camps lack proper access to water under a scorching sun.

Northern Afghanistan assault

In northern Afghanistan, the Taliban have taken control of most of the provincial capital of Sar-e-Pul, the head of its council, Mohammad Noor Rahmani said.

In recent months, the group has gained control of dozens of districts across several provinces in the north.

Meanwhile, Jawzjan province in the north remains under a three-month Taliban attack.

The stronghold of Marshal Rashid Dostum, an Uzbek warlord, Jawzjan has lost eight out of ten districts to the insurgents, who continue to advance on the capital, Shibirghan city.

The Taliban onslaught seems to have intensified with the start of the final withdrawal of US and NATO troops in late April.

Civilians at risk

As attacks intensify, Afghan security forces and government troops have retaliated with increasing air strikes, aided by the United States.

This has raised growing concerns about civilian casualties across the country.

“We can tell you that we are deeply concerned about the safety and protection of people in Lashkar Gah, in the south, where tens of thousands of people could be trapped by fighting,” Stephane Dujarric, the United Nations spokesman said on Wednesday.

“We, along with our humanitarian partners in Afghanistan, are assessing needs and responding in the south, as access allows,” he said.

People living in urban centres have stared a campaign in support of Afghan forces and saying no to violence in country shouting “Allahu Akbar” God is great starting from western Herat and continues to different other provinces.

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