Afghanistan has deployed hundreds of commandos backed by NATO air strikes in Lashkar Gah to flush out Taliban insurgents from the strategic city after the militants killed 14 people in a coordinated attack, officials said on Tuesday. The assault on Monday marked the militants’ latest attempt to seize the provincial capital of Helmand, underscoring unravelling security as the insurgents expand their foothold across the opium-rich province 15 years after the US invasion.
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“More than 300 commandos… have been deployed to the city to prevent Taliban advancement,” said Abdul Jabar Qahraman, government special envoy for security in Helmand.
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Provincial spokesman Omar Zwak told AFP the commandos were sent from Kabul and neighbouring provinces to launch a “clearance operation” in Lashkar Gah after the attack, which killed 10 policemen and four others.
“Soon the security forces will clear the whole city from Taliban,” Zwak said.
“US enablers are in the area and will support as needed. Yesterday there were two airstrikes in Helmand, both of these were in support of ANDSF (Afghan National Defense and Security Forces) strategic operations,” a NATO spokesman said.
The Taliban have waged an insurgency against the western-backed Kabul government since being toppled from power by a US-led invasion in 2001. They have intensified attacks across the war-torn country in recent months, pressuring Afghan forces stretched on multiple fronts.
Around 30,000 people have been displaced in Helmand in recent weeks, mostly fleeing to Lashkar Gah, a city practically besieged, with roads from neighbouring districts heavily mined by the insurgents.
The intervention in Helmand has fuelled the perception that foreign powers are increasingly being drawn back into the conflict as Afghan forces struggle to rein in the Taliban.
Monday’s early morning assault also underscored the Taliban’s sustained push into urban centres, coming a week after the militants briefly stormed into Kunduz in the north before being repelled by Afghan forces.
The attack began with a car bombing in an attempt to break through the security belt in Lashkar Gah and enter the city, according to officials and local residents.
Mohammad Radmanish, a defence ministry spokesman, said security forces had managed to repel the attack and push back the insurgents, but feared they would return.