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On Their Own, Afghan Forces Strain to Combat Taliban Offensives

Viewed 719 times 2016-10-10 23:02 |Personal category:for discussion|System category:Others| security, struggle, against, capital, central

On Their Own, Afghan Forces Strain to Combat Taliban Offensives

09 October 2016.

As Afghan forces struggle to break a weeklong Taliban siege of central neighborhoods in the provincial capital of Kunduz, insurgents are also stepping up pressure on urban centers in western and southern Afghanistan, officials said Sunday.

In Farah Province, in the west, Afghan security forces have called for reinforcements to hold the line against the insurgents' offensive. Fierce battles are also raging around Lashkar Gah, the capital of Helmand Province, in the south, which has been surrounded for months as Afghan forces have failed to reverse Taliban gains.

The fall of central areas of Kunduz City, where street-to-street fighting has displaced tens of thousands of people, has punctured the belief that Afghan forces, trained and financed by Western allies, could protect major urban centers. In recent months, Afghan troops have suffered record casualties.

Still, Afghan and Western officials say, the inexperienced Afghan forces, operating largely on their own now that the NATO mission has drawn down to an advisory role, have so far held their own despite being stretched to defend several areas simultaneously.

"Since August, the Taliban have made seven attempts to take cities inside Afghanistan," said Gen. John W. Nicholson, the commander of American and NATO forces in Afghanistan, who visited Lashkar Gah with senior Afghan leaders on Saturday. "Every one of these attempts has failed."

But local officials in the cities facing the Taliban threat described a chaotic defense. Farid Ahmad Bakhatwar, the chief of the Farah provincial council, said Sunday that Taliban fighters had entered the Barang Tot area late Saturday, but that airstrikes had stemmed their advances. The city was in a panic, he said, with most shops closed and people fleeing.

He expressed concern that Afghan forces had abandoned some check posts without a fight, in some cases without firing "a single bullet."

"If they had not been bombed by the air force, they would have captured the city last night," Mr. Bakhatwar said of the Taliban.

Muhammad Asif Nang, the governor of Farah Province, said that airstrikes had killed about 60 insurgents on Sunday and that the city was not at risk of falling. In three days of fighting, 18 members of the security forces were killed and seven were wounded, Mr. Nang said.

In Helmand, the Taliban fighters have probed several points around Lashkar Gah, said Omar Zwak, a spokesman for the provincial governor. He said the fighting, which ebbs and flows, had been intense all night and then subsided during the day.


Afghan security forces during an operation in Helmand Province on Sunday. Credit Watan Yar/European Pressphoto Agency

"The defense minister and NATO commander visited Lashkar Gah yesterday and promised they will launch an operation, but it has not started yet," Mr. Zwak said Sunday.

Complicating the work of the Afghan forces, the Taliban have, in many areas, cut off the main highways as well as smaller roads leading to security check posts, often pinning down the Afghan forces and disrupting resupply efforts. The Afghan Air Force, lacking sufficient aircraft, is stretched thin.

The United States military, while continuing to provide air support, is increasingly hesitant to strike urban centers after the disastrous accidental bombing of a hospital in Kunduz last year. Nevertheless, a spokesman for the United States forces in Afghanistan said Sunday that they had carried out 14 strikes in Kunduz since Friday.

Early in their siege of Kunduz, which began last Monday, the Taliban cut off highways leading into the city, which briefly fell to the insurgents in a similar offensive last year. On Friday, a convoy carrying Afghan reinforcements for the city came under fire in neighboring Baghlan Province, and about a dozen vehicles were destroyed by the Taliban.

On Sunday, two Afghan Army helicopters trying to resupply a base cut off by the Taliban outside Baghlan's provincial capital came under fire, and one aircraft crashed. At least seven Afghan soldiers on board were killed, the Afghan Defense Ministry said.

While the Interior Ministry said its forces had made progress in clearing the Taliban from at least three parts of Kunduz City, residents reported little change in the situation. Fighting slowed after Saturday night, only to pick up again late Sunday.

"Heavy fighting is still underway in Kunduz City," said Ghulam Rababani Rabbani, a member of the provincial council. "The Taliban did not retreat from any area."

The plight of residents displaced by the fighting continues to worsen. The United Nations' Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said Sunday that about 24,000 displaced people had arrived in cities near Kunduz, as well as in Kabul, the national capital.

Afghan officials said the number was much higher. In neighboring Takhar Province alone, about 8,000 families, or roughly 50,000 people, had arrived since the fighting began, said Yasin Zia, the governor.

"The emergency committee is trying to provide basic aid, but this is above our ability," Mr. Zia said. "They prepare food for 2,000 people for a lunch, and then 5,000 people show up."

President Ashraf Ghani, in a televised address, promised to provide aid for Kunduz's displaced residents and those in other parts of the country.

Those who remain in Kunduz face a bleak situation, lacking food, water and electricity, Mr. Ghani said.

(Opinions of the writer in this blog don't represent those of China Daily.)




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