Afghan forces battle to stop first major city from falling to Taliban

Taliban fighters assaulted at least three provincial capitals overnight, Lashkar Gah, Kandahar and Herat after a weekend of heavy fighting that saw thousands of civilians flee the advancing militants.

Afghan forces battled Monday to stop a first major city from falling to the Taliban following weekend offensives by the insurgents on urban centres in a sharp escalation.

Taliban fighters assaulted at least three provincial capitals overnight, Lashkar Gah, Kandahar and Herat after a weekend of heavy fighting that saw thousands of civilians flee the advancing militants.

Fighting raged in Helmand’s provincial capital Lashkar Gah, where the Taliban launched coordinated attacks on the city centre and its prison – just hours after the government announced the deployment of hundreds of commandos to the area.

Clashes have intensified since early May, with the insurgents capitalising on the final stages of the withdrawal of US-led foreign forces after almost 20 years.

As the country’s security forces struggled to keep the Taliban at bay, President Ashraf Ghani today, blamed Washington for Afghanistan’s deteriorating security.

Fighting also surged in some districts of Kandahar province, the former bastion of the insurgents, and on the outskirts of its capital. Kandahar airport came under attack overnight Sunday, with the Taliban firing rockets that damaged the runway, leading to the suspension of flights for several hours.

Kabul has repeatedly dismissed the militants’ steady gains over the summer as lacking strategic value, but has largely failed to reverse their momentum.

President Ghani said, authorities had worked out a six-month plan to thwart the Taliban, but acknowledged the insurgents were no longer a scattered and inexperienced movement.

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