Taliban, Afghan forces battle for control of Helmand’s capital

After days of heavy fighting with Afghan security forces, the Taliban has entered Laskhar Gah, the capital of Helmand province. The city is in danger of falling to the Taliban.

The Taliban is now battling Afghan security forces in the heart of the city. Clashes are occurring close to the police and National Directorate of Security headquarters, the city’s main prison, and the governor’s compound. The Taliban has also taken control of the city’s main radio station, and has begun broadcasting its Voice of Sharia programming.

Taliban fighters have been photographed and filmed in numerous location throughout the city, including main squares, markets and other places.

Flights out of Bost Airport, which is directly south of the city, have been suspended and the Taliban have been firing rockets at the facility. The government still controls the airport, which is a vital lifeline for Afghan security forces as the Taliban controls all of the districts surrounding the city and the roads are highly contested. The security sitiuation in the neighborhood of Karez, which is directly west of Bost Airport, is tenuous.

The U.S. military has resumed airstrikes in Helmand and elsewhere in an attempt to prevent the Taliban from overrunning several major cities. The U.S. Air Force has launched more than a dozen strikes in and around Lashkar Gah, and also in Kandahar City, Herat City, and elsewhere over the past week. The Afghan military has also been launching airstrikes in and around the Lashkar Gah, and has sent reinforcements to attempt to prevent the fall of the city. However the combined U.S. and Afghan airstrikes have so far failed to dislodge the Taliban or halt its advance.

The Taliban renewed its offensive two weeks ago, at the end of the Eid al Adha holiday. The Taliban advanced on Lashkar Gah from the north and south, and is trying to squeeze Afghan forces in the city center.

The Taliban’s rural insurgency strategy of taking remote districts and pressing to the population centers has been on full display in Helmand. The Taliban took the remote districts of Baghran, Kajaki, Musa Qala, Sangin, Khanishan, Reg, and Dishu over the past several years, and then worked its way inward to contest and eventually control the districts closer to the capital. The districts of Gereshk, Nawa, and Marjah recently fell to the Taliban, as did the districts of Panjwayi and Maywand in neighboring Kandahar. Once the Taliban was in control of these key districts, the door was opened to launch its assault on Lashkar Gah.

Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD's Long War Journal.

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