| 27 September 2021, Monday |

Taliban close to capturing Afghan city of Lashkar Gah

The Afghan military said that it was able of thwarting an attack by the Taliban on on Lashkar Gah, by using its air ang ground forces, while commandos were stationed  in the city, capital of the fertile Helmand province in the country’s south and home to several large military bases.

Resident Hawa Malalai issued a warning on the growing crisis in the city and said “there is fighting, power cuts [and] sick people in hospital; the telecommunication networks are down. There are no medicines and pharmacies are closed”.

Lashkar Gah is one of three Afghan cities close to being overrun by the militants. In the eponymous capital of neighbouring Kandahar province, the airport was closed on Sunday amid heavy rocket fire.

In the western part of the country, Taliban militants also entered the city of Herat where the government has also stationed commandos.

The country’s fledgling air force has been conducting air strikes against massed groups of Taliban fighters, with the US air force joining, although in a limited capacity.

Fighting has intensified since early May, with the insurgents capitalising on the final stages of the withdrawal of US-led foreign forces after about 20 years.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani blamed the country’s deteriorating security situation on Washington’s decision.

“The reason for our current situation is that the decision was taken abruptly,” he told the country’s parliament on Monday.

Mr Ghani said he had warned Washington that the withdrawal would have “consequences”.

For years, Helmand province for years was at the centre of US and British military campaigns in Afghanistan – only for it to slip deeper into instability.

The province reported some of the fiercest fighting between foreign forces and the Taliban over the years – along with high casualties – when tens of thousands of troops poured in after former US president Barack Obama increased America’s military presence in the country.

The vast poppy fields in the province provide the lion’s share of opium, the raw material for heroin, making it a lucrative source of tax and cash for the Taliban.

The loss of the Helmand capital would be a massive strategic and psychological blow for the government, which pledged to defend provincial capitals at all costs after losing much of the rural countryside to the Taliban over the summer.