The Afghan army has asked the 200,000 inhabitants of Lashkar Gah, capital of Helmand province (southwest of the country), to leave their homes.
The city is under attack by the forces of the fundamentalist group Taliban, in clashes that left at least 40 dead and 118 injured from Monday (2) to Tuesday (3), according to United Nations estimates.
In a message to the townspeople, General Sami Sadat said he “will not leave any Taliban alive”, “but if you are displaced from your home for a few days, please forgive us.”
On the BBC’s Afghan service, Sadat said his army had lost ground to the Taliban since the weekend offensive, but he doubted the insurgents’ ability to maintain their position for long.
The Taliban, who presided over a brutal regime from 1996 to 2001 when they were ousted from power by the US-led invasion for harboring the al-Qaeda network that carried out the 9/11 attacks, are making progress since the Americans started to retreat.
President Joe Biden’s decision came in April and the plan is to evacuate all troops by August 31. The other countries that support the American mission, the majority of NATO (Western military alliance) have done the same.
In the largest coordinated attack in years, the Taliban moved from controlling villages and border points to assaulting cities. Kandahar (South), Herat (West) and Lashkar Gah are under fire from critics.
Strategic point since its foundation in the 9th century, as its name in Persian suggests (“army barracks”), the capital of this province of 1.5 million inhabitants is at the center of the control of the vast poppy fields. , who provide opium for heroin. production.
About 40% of the world’s raw material for drugs comes from the region, ensuring a significant source of funding for those who control them. Militarily, it is a corridor between Iran and Kandahar, the former heart of the Taliban movement.
During the 20 years of the American war there were two huge Western bases there, one American (Camp Leatherneck) and one British (Camp Bastion), which sustained some of the bloodiest clashes with the insurgents. Both sites were transferred to Afghanistan in 2014.
During its purist Islamic rule, the Taliban banned production, but pragmatism after being ousted from power loosened its position and today most fields generate income for the group.
The Taliban attack prompted the central government in Kabul to blame the Americans directly for the “sudden exit,” as President Ashraf Ghani said on Monday.
Under the peace agreement between the United States and the Taliban signed by Donald Trump and ratified by Biden, the Taliban would sit at the table with Ghani to share power. This has restricted them previously: in November, they had taken eastern Lashkar Gah but retreated when the United States halted airstrikes in the area.
But the group alleges the Americans broke the deal by not leaving the country in May, as was originally agreed. Under this pretext, they are advancing on several fronts.
Ghani says his government will be able to resist, supported by the vast re-equipping of the armed forces under US leadership and assistance, and that in six months the situation will be stabilized. It now remains to combine with the Taliban.