Wednesday, May 25

Taliban Approach Capital Helmand As UK’s Afghan Mission Ends | Afghanistan

When Boris Johnson announced the end of the British military mission in Afghanistan, Taliban fighters pressed the capital of Helmand province, once the center of the UK presence there.

The militants are less than a mile from Lashkar Gah, now also home to tens of thousands of people who fled fighting or the Taliban regime in the rest of the province, local officials said.

“There is no security in Lashkar Gah, the situation is quite dangerous,” Majid Akhundzada, a member of the Helmand provincial council, told The Guardian. “All the districts have fallen or the fighting continues. The government is in a weak defensive position. “

Helmand has 14 districts and only Lashkar Gah remains largely under the control of government forces. Troops loyal to Kabul also control the centers of four districts, Kajaki, Nad Ali, Marjah and Garmsir, and have isolated military bases in some areas, including Sangin, but must be supplied by air transport.

Soldiers are trapped in these outposts, and the dead and wounded are transported too late, if at all, according to locals.

Mohammad Zaman Hamdard, a spokesman for the Helmand police chief, said government forces, including commandos backed by air support, were regaining ground. He said that large numbers of young people who formed unofficial militias to protect the regional capital were supporting the security forces.

“The biggest problem is the numerous mines in the area that we are working to deactivate. Much work has been done. The air force has also grown stronger. The Taliban have suffered heavy casualties, ”he said.

Many of those displaced from rural homes do not have a decent shelter or enough to eat, said civil activist Abdul Haq Zwakman.

“The city is under siege, hundreds of displaced families live with hunger and famine,” he said. “We never imagined that we would be in this situation. The Taliban’s success is greater than ever, it is progressing rapidly, they capture arms and ammunition, they have a large force of personnel and they control a large geographical area.

“We are not far from people starting big protests against both the government and the Taliban, because neither side benefits the people. They just create problems for them and pursue their own goals. “

Hundreds of British and American soldiers died fighting the Taliban in Helmand, a center of opium production and insurgency. Since their departure in 2014, the militants have slowly consolidated control over many of their districts, including Sangin.

Haji Wali Mohammad, a Sangin tribal elder, said that at least half the population had fled to Lashkar Gah. A few hundred soldiers were clinging to a base, he added.

“The (foreign) supporters left us alone with a weak government, they failed to build strong institutions, prevent corruption and enforce the law,” he said. He called on the international community to support the peace process.

Zwakman, the activist, praised the work of British troops and the provincial civil reconstruction team that built roads and other infrastructure, but also said they had left too soon.

“Without the help of the British and other foreign countries, we could not develop here. Unfortunately, these countries hastily decided to withdraw from Afghanistan. Because we lacked security, the British troops should have stayed to some extent. “

Akhundzada warned that without help against the resurgence of the Taliban, Helmand could once again become a center of extremism, despite billions of dollars in aid and the loss of so many soldiers’ lives.

Government forces trying to defend remote outposts are running out of food and ammunition. “How can they resist in these conditions?” he said. “The government has not fulfilled its plans and responsibilities.”

“If no serious action is taken, another catastrophe would ensue across the country. The international forces that spent so much money here in Helmand couldn’t contain it. “

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