Kabul: Taliban fighters pushed deeper into the southern Afghan provincial capital of Lashkargah on Monday and closed in on government buildings, a senior official said, as the insurgents pressed a rapid advance. Heavy fighting was raging close to the National Directorate of Security, the prison and the police headquarters in the main city in Helmand province, the government official said. Taliban fighters have moved in on three provincial capitals in the last few days and seized territory nationwide since Washington said it planned a complete withdrawal of troops by September.
Most of their advances have focused on rural areas and they have yet to take full control of a major city. An Afghan military commander said the government forces managed to beat back the Taliban later in the day. “In the afternoon the level of intensity of the fighting (in Lashkargah) decreased as the Taliban suffered heavy casualties following the air and ground operations,” Sayed Sami Sadat, the commander of the Maiwand army corps, said. President Ashraf Ghani on Monday blamed the country's fast-deteriorating security situation on a “sudden” decision by the United States to withdraw its troops. “We have had an unexpected situation in the last three months,” he told the Afghan parliament.
Ghani added that the Afghan government had a US-backed security plan to bring the situation under control within six months. He also accused the Taliban of keeping up its ties with terrorist groups and of stepping up attacks on women.
The Taliban rejected Ghani’s accusations. “Declarations of war, accusations and lies cannot prolong Ghanis government’s life; his time has run out, God willing,” the movement's spokesman, Zabihullah Mujahid, said on Twitter.
Taliban rockets hit Kandahar airport
According to reports, Taliban leadership is targeting to take over a key airport in the southern city of Kandahar to ensure that the facility is not used for aerial attacks against them. An attempt was made on Sunday but reports from the area suggest that their assault was repulsed by the government forces. All domestic and international flights have been suspended after rockets were fired at the facility. Details of the damage are unavailable because of the claims and counter claims by both sides.
The airport chief Massoud A Pashtun said three rockets were fired by Taliban with two landing on the tarmac. “There were no casualties and the damage is being repaired,” he said. Taliban spokesman Zabihuallah Mujahid said the attack was necessitated because the airport was being used by enemy forces as a hub to conduct airstrikes on them. It was necessary, he said, to either shut or take over the airport.
US expands Af refugee plan
The US state department is offering potential refugee status to new categories of Afghans who assisted the US during the war in Afghanistan, including those who worked for news media and NGOs. The department said that the creation of a “Priority 2” category for Afghans within the US Refugee Admissions Programme is intended for Afghans and their immediate families who “may be at risk due to their US affiliation” but aren’t able to get a Special Immigrant Visa because they did not work directly for the US government. Those who worked as employees of contractors, locally employed staff and interpreters and translators for the US government or armed forces are eligible for the new designation, as well as Afghans employed by a US-based media organisation or NGOs. About 200 Afghans flew into the US last week as part of its evacuation effort.
China-Taliban ties warming up
China’s foreign minister met a delegation of high-level Taliban officials as ties between them warm ahead of the US pullout from Afghanistan. A photo posted on the ministry’s website showed Wang Yi posing with senior Taliban leader Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar and his delegation in the city of Tianjin, then sitting down to talks. The highly conspicuous show of friendliness had the appearance of a diplomatic mission at a time when the Taliban are craving legitimacy. Wang said China respects Afghan sovereign independence and territorial integrity and always adheres to noninterference in Afghanistan’s internal affairs. He said the hasty withdrawal of the US and Nato “reveals the failure of America’s policies and offers the Afghan people an important opportunity to stabilise and develop their own country.”