In Afghanistan, the Taliban move closer to big cities

For three months and the start of the withdrawal of Western forces, the Taliban have led the offensive. After taking control of vast rural areas, they attacked three major cities.

Three cities are attacked by the Taliban : Kandahar in the south, not far Laskhar Gah, and Herat in the west. In Lashkar Gah, witnesses say that this weekend, the fighting between Afghan forces and the Taliban took place street by street. The inhabitants are trapped between the bombs which fall from the sky, and the corpses which cover the streets. In Herat, 600,000 inhabitants, the fighting is approaching the city. The Islamists are currently held back by militias led by a powerful local warlord, Ismail Khan, a highly respected veteran of the war against the Soviets.

What worries the authorities above all is the situation in Kandahar city. The Taliban are fighting in the suburbs. During the night of Saturday July 31 to Sunday, they launched rockets at the airport. The take-off runway was damaged, and there is only one. All flights were suspended for a few hours on Sunday before resuming in the afternoon.

Kandahar, the essential catch

La ville de Kandahar a une importance stratégique dans cette nouvelle offensive. Et ce pour plusieurs raisons. Déjà, Kandahar est la deuxième plus grande ville du pays, après Kaboul, 650 000 habitants. Ensuite, parce qu’elle abrite une base aérienne militaire. Les bombardements aériens sont la clé de cette guerre contre les Talibans. Sans aéroport, les forces afghanes ne peuvent plus décoller, et elles ne peuvent plus non plus être ravitaillées dans la région.

Symbolically, Kandahar is also the cradle of the Taliban movement. They had made it the center of their ultra-rigorous regime between 1996 and 2001, when they were in power. Finally, if the Islamists take back Kandahar, it will put the regular army in doubt. Morally, it will be a disaster for the Afghan troops who will wonder if they are capable of winning this war. “The regime’s last point of resistance is its ability to hold the cities,” explains Gilles Dorronsoro , professor of political science at the University of Paris I and specialist in Afghanistan. “If the regime loses Kandahar, the Taliban will install a government inside the city.” For the expert,“If the Taliban take Kandahar, the regime collapses.”

For now, the Afghan forces have the backing of the Americans. Although they are withdrawing from Afghanistan and have left Bagram Air Base, they continue to bomb the insurgents. They operate from their base in the Gulf. “The Americans are buying a delay between their withdrawal – which must be completed on August 31 – and the fall of the regime. The bombings are no longer used for that, everyone knows that it is a regime that is dead.”

30,000 Afghans leave the country every week

With the Americans no longer operating from Afghan soil, their airstrikes are imprecise, and this explains the increase in civilian casualties in recent weeks. These air and ground fighting forced thousands of Afghans to flee their homes. In Kandahar, the government hastily set up makeshift camps, now home to thousands of people. In Lashkar Gah, residents took their belongings and went to sleep near a river.

In cities, the Taliban are driving civilians out of their homes so they can protect themselves inside. According to the UN, 30,000 Afghans leave the country every week. This is 30 to 40% more than before the withdrawal of Western forces. According to the UN, 330,000 Afghans have been displaced this year, half of them since the United States began its withdrawal in May.  The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) warns: the humanitarian crisis is “imminent” .

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