The Taliban continues to press its offensive in southern Afghanistan and is reported to have advanced within miles of the city of Lashkar Gah, the provincial capital of Helmand province.
Within the past week, the Taliban has stepped up attacks in the districts of Laskhar Gah, Nad Ali, and Nahr-i-Sarraj in central Helmand, according to Afghan press reports and the jihadist group’s propaganda.
The Taliban seized control of the town of Babaji and “all the checkpoints up to Gereshk” in Nahr-i-Sarraj on Oct. 20, the leader of provincial council’s security committee told Afghan Islamic Press. The jihadist group also claimed it seized Babaji in a statement released on its propaganda website, Voice of Jihad. Babaji is less than five miles north of Lashkar Gah.
Additionally, the Taliban claimed it “liberated” areas in the district of Nad Ali, which is due west of Lashkar Gah. On Oct. 20, the jihadist group claimed that it overran “a large strategic ANA [Afghan National Army] outpost located in Ismat Bazaar” in the town of Marja in Nad Ali.
Afghan officials confirmed the Taliban has taken control of areas around the provincial capital and that Afghan security personnel, including an “Afghan special police unit,” from the Ministry of Interior have arrived in Lashkar Gah to stage a counterattack. According to Pajwhok Afghan News, the police spokesman for Helmand said that “operations were underway in [the Babaji] area of Lashkar Gah, Nad Ali and Gereshk districts and the forces had advanced while the insurgents had lost courage to put up resistance.”
The Taliban denied reports that it lost control of areas it seized in Nahr-i-Sarraj and Nad Ali. “Mujahideen of Islamic Emirate are still in control over those areas of Nad Ali and Babaji districts liberated by Mujahidden amid 3 days long operation,” according to a statement on Voice of Jihad.
The Taliban offensive around Lashkar Gah is similar to the offensive that allowed the group to take control of Kunduz city in the Afghan north for more than a week at the end of September. The Taliban seized control of outlying districts in Kunduz and neighboring province before assaulting the provincial capital. The offensive to seize Kunduz city began in April 2015.
In Helmand, the Taliban control or contest six of the province’s 13 districts, according to data compiled by The Long War Journal. All of the districts due north of Laskhar Gah — Baghran, Musa Qala, Kajaki, Sangin, and Now Zad — are controlled or heavily contested by the jihadist group. The Taliban uses these districts to assemble its forces and assault Lashkar Gah and neighboring districts.
If Lashkar Gah falls to the Taliban, it would be the second city to do so this year. Lashkar Gah isn’t the only provincial capital that is under direct threat. The Taliban pressed an offensive to take control of Ghazni city two weeks ago, but failed to do so, and remains on the outskirts of the city. Additionally, Tarin Kot, the capital of Uruzgan province, which borders Helmand to the north, is also imperiled. Four of the six districts in Uruzgan are heavily contested by the Taliban.