Taliban make gains in key Afghan cities as fighting escalates

Aug 1, 2021: Afghan government forces on Sunday battled Taliban attacks on several major cities as insurgents stepped up their nationwide operation, which resulted in overnight rocket fire at a key airport in the south.

Fighting has escalated in the months since early May, when US-led foreign forces began their final withdrawal from Afghanistan, which is now almost complete. After seizing large swathes of rural areas and key border crossings, the Taliban have now begun besieging provincial capitals.

Flights from Kandahar, Afghanistan’s second-largest city, were halted before sunrise after a rocket hit the airport.

Airport chief Masood Pashtun said two rockets had collided with the runway and repairs were underway, after which flights were expected to resume on Sunday. The facility is important in providing the logistical and air support needed to prevent the Taliban from gaining control of the city, while also providing air cover for large areas of southern Afghanistan.

The attack came as the Taliban came close to capturing at least two other provincial capitals, including near Lashkar Gah in Helmand Province. “Fighting is going on inside the city and we have called for the deployment of special forces in the city,” Ataullah Afghan, head of Helmand’s provincial council, told AFP.

Afghan security forces have increasingly relied on airstrikes to push militants out of cities, even though they risk killing civilians in densely populated areas.

Fighting continued overnight on the outskirts of the city, with airstrikes on Taliban strongholds further west of the city.

Both the Taliban and government forces exaggerate their claims of casualties to each other’s forces, and the exact number is difficult to independently verify. For months, the Taliban’s regional gains have been largely in sparsely populated rural areas in the final stages of the US withdrawal. But in recent weeks, they have put increasing pressure on provincial capitals and seized key border crossings.

Capturing any major urban center would take their current aggression to another level and raise fears that the military is unable to counter the Taliban advance on the battlefield.

The government has repeatedly rejected the Taliban’s steady gains over the summer because they claimed it has no strategic value.

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