UN headquarters attacked in Herat amid fierce battle between govt, Taliban

Herat city is Afghanistan’s second provincial capital the Taliban have entered in the last 24 hours. Insurgents entered the capital of the southern province of Helmand a day earlier, and clashes are under way there.

Afghan security personnel and Afghan militia fighting against Taliban stand guard in Enjil district of Herat province on July 30, 2021. (Hoshang Hashimi / AFP)

The main UN compound in the capital of the western Afghan province of Herat has been attacked by “anti-government elements” and at least one security guard was killed.

The attack, involving rocket-propelled grenades and gunfire, happened hours after Taliban insurgents penetrated deep into Herat city on Friday and heavy clashes with Afghan security forces were going on near the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) provincial headquarters, officials said.

“The attack targeting entrances of the clearly marked United Nations facility was carried out by anti-government elements,” UNAMA’s statement said following the attack.

UNAMA said the attack was against the entrances of the compound that were clearly marked as a United Nations facility.

“This attack against the United Nations is deplorable and we condemn it in the strongest terms,” said Deborah Lyons, the UN Secretary General’s Special Representative for Afghanistan.

UNAMA said no UN personnel were hurt in the incident.

The UN warned on Monday that Afghanistan could see the highest number of civilian deaths in more than a decade if the Taliban’s offensives across the country are not halted.

In a new report documenting civilian casualties for the first half of 2021, UNAMA said it expected figures to touch their highest single-year levels since the mission began reporting over a decade ago.

Clashes in Herat

Herat city is the second provincial capital the Taliban have entered in the last 24 hours.

In 1998 during their hardline regime, Taliban fighters entered the Iranian consulate grounds in Mazar-i-Sharif and killed 10 diplomats and a journalist with the state news agency.

For the past two days the insurgents and government forces have clashed on the outskirts of Herat, Afghanistan’s third-largest city of 600,000 inhabitants.

An AFP correspondent there said the Taliban and government forces were also fighting on the road leading to the city airport on Friday, while residents reported clashes in the nearby districts of Injil and Guzara. The Interior Ministry said the government still holds the two districts.

“People there are terrified,” said Abdul Rab Ansari, who fled to the city from Guzara.

“The fighting is heavy but they have not captured the district of Guzara so far,” said Mohammad Allahyar, who also sought shelter in Herat.

Afghan forces and militiamen of veteran warlord and anti-Taliban commander Ismail Khan have been deployed around the city in recent days.

Helmand capitals fall to Taliban

Insurgents entered the capital of the southern province of Helmand a day earlier, and clashes are under way there.

Civilians rushed to evacuate the city.

“Since Thursday morning the Taliban have launched attacks from several directions on Lashkargah city,” a government official told Reuters on the condition of anonymity.

Lashkargah is the capital of Helmand, a southern province bordering Pakistan.

With US-led foreign forces nearing a complete withdrawal of troops, the Taliban have made swift territorial gains over the last two months but have not yet captured any provincial capitals.

A United Nations report this week said civilian casualties had been surging in recent weeks in Afghanistan, with as many killed in May and June as in the previous four months.

The report did not cover casualties in July, when fighting has intensified further.

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