KABUL—The Taliban commander overseeing an assault on the important thing southern metropolis of Lashkargah is certainly one of 5,000 former prisoners launched by the Afghan authorities final yr beneath stress from the U.S., Afghan and Western officers say.
The commander, Mawlavi Talib, is certainly one of hundreds of former prisoners freed to additional peace talks who’ve returned to the battlefield to affix the Taliban onslaught in opposition to cities across the nation, Afghan officers say. The presence of the Taliban fighters is a contemporary pressure in relations between Washington and Kabul, because the U.S.-backed authorities struggles to fend off Taliban assaults all through the nation.
Afghan officers mentioned fierce preventing continued Tuesday in Lashkargah, the provincial capital of Helmand province, after heavy U.S. airstrikes and a counterattack by U.S.-trained Afghan commandos in a single day. Underneath Mr. Talib’s command, a whole bunch of Taliban have pushed towards town heart over the previous week. On Tuesday they launched an assault on Lashkargah’s jail in a bid to launch extra inmates and recruit them into the combat.
The preventing in Lashkargah is a part of a wider countrywide Taliban offensive that had captured half of the nation’s distant districts by final month and now threatens provincial capitals. On Tuesday, the federal government mentioned that its commandos launched a counterattack within the western metropolis of Herat, whose defenses had been teetering. Taliban forces final month pierced defenses in Kandahar, Afghanistan’s second largest metropolis, however authorities forces are holding regular there.
Afghanistan’s Protection Ministry mentioned Tuesday its forces killed round 375 Taliban and wounded 193 in preventing throughout the nation within the final 24 hours. Eleven improvised explosive gadgets had been found and defused, the ministry mentioned. The Afghan authorities has stopped releasing statistics by itself navy casualties to keep away from demoralizing its troops.
In Kabul, attackers set off a automotive bomb close to a visitor home of Afghanistan’s appearing protection minister Tuesday evening, then stormed a close-by residence. The assault set off a gun battle with responding safety forces that lasted hours.
The minister, Bismillah Khan, wasn’t house on the time of the assault. Hamid Noori, a spokesman for the ministry of inside, mentioned dozens of civilians had been evacuated from the world. A close-by hospital reported no less than 4 folks had been killed and 11 admitted with wounds.
Earlier than a particular session of parliament referred to as in response to the Taliban offensive, Afghan President
assured the nation Monday that the U.S. nonetheless helps the federal government. However he provided a uncommon public criticism of the U.S., saying, “the present state of affairs is because of a sudden resolution on the withdrawal of worldwide troops.”
On Tuesday, Secretary of State
spoke with Mr. Ghani to “reiterate the robust and enduring U.S. dedication to Afghanistan,” the State Division mentioned. The leaders each condemned the Taliban assaults, which they mentioned “present little regard for human life and human rights.”
Afghan forces’ dependence on U.S. air energy for airstrikes and logistics rendered them ill-prepared for the U.S. pullout. Afghan officers say privately that their floor and air forces have been stretched skinny within the preventing. The Afghan Air Power, which the U.S. has referred to as the federal government’s most potent weapon in opposition to the Taliban, has been unable to fill the vacuum.
The U.S. pullout from Afghanistan follows an settlement signed with the Taliban final yr beneath which the Taliban promised to not enable al Qaeda or different worldwide jihadist teams to make use of Afghan soil to assault different international locations.
The U.S. agreed to the discharge of 5,000 Taliban prisoners as a part of that settlement, in an effort to encourage the Taliban to speak to the Afghan authorities and comply with a cease-fire. Nevertheless, Kabul was reluctant to free the prisoners and, Afghan officers say, solely did so beneath stress from Washington. Talks between the Taliban and Afghan authorities began however by no means gained momentum and as an alternative of a cease-fire, the insurgents have unleashed a national offensive.
The State Division didn’t reply instantly to a request for remark.
Earlier than their launch, prisoners signed guarantees to not interact in preventing with the federal government, however a lot of the freed prisoners at the moment are again on the battlefield, mentioned Fawad Aman, a spokesman for Afghanistan’s Ministry of Protection.
“These freed Taliban are enjoying a really crucial position in Helmand. They’re among the many fiercest Taliban terrorists,” mentioned Mr. Aman.
Mr. Talib served for years beneath the Taliban, first as a navy commander and later because the Taliban’s unrecognized, or “shadow,” deputy governor of Helmand province. The province, the location of heavy preventing between U.S. and British troops and the Taliban, is a middle for poppy cultivation for the narcotics commerce, so is especially prized by the insurgents.
Final yr Mr. Talib was arrested by Afghan troopers who acknowledged him as he tried to go by a checkpoint on a highway within the Sangin district in japanese Helmand, Afghan officers mentioned. He was despatched to Kabul for confinement, however inside months was freed within the prisoner launch, the officers mentioned.
He quickly resumed his previous put up of shadow deputy governor of Helmand, officers mentioned. In June fighters overran distant districts within the province, and final month Mr. Talib collected fighters from all through Helmand and adjoining provinces to encompass Lashkargah for an assault.
Taliban fighters have seized a lot of the metropolis in latest weeks, together with a authorities tv station, and this week started their very own radio and tv broadcasts.
A counterattack by commando items appeared to stem the advance by Tuesday. However Mr. Aman mentioned the Taliban was utilizing civilians and houses as shields in Lashkargah, slowing down the operation.
The civilian inhabitants was requested Tuesday by the Afghan military normal main the battle, Sami Sadat, to vacate their homes. Native residents questioned the way it was secure for them to go exterior their houses.
“I’m preventing for the way forward for my folks,” mentioned Gen. Sadat, in a message to the inhabitants of Lashkargah. “We is not going to go away the Taliban alive.”
—Frotan Ghousuddin contributed to this text.
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