Taliban surround capital city of Helmand :Province in Afghanistan

The Taliban are surrounding Lashkar Gah the capital of Helmand Province. While military commanders claim the situation has stabilized, city officials are more pessimistic.

Provincial council chief Karim Atal said: "If we don’t receive support from the central government, the province will collapse soon". While Atal said that the Afghan security forces were capable, he complained there was a lack of attention to the situation by leaders in Kabul. The past month much attention has been paid to a campaign against Islamic State (IS) militants in eastern Afghanistan. Atal said that if the government does not show support for Helmand the people would be asked to take up weapons and fight the Taliban. However, Atal said that forces had been brought back from checkpoints further afield to reinforce those in Lashkar Gah.
Lashkar Gah itself is being deluged with civilians fleeing fighting in the outlying areas creating a humanitarian crisis. Omar Zawak, spokesperson for the provincial governor said: "Around 30,000 people have been displaced in Helmand in the past several weeks. Most of them are coming to Lashkar Gah. Its difficult for the city to contain all of them. Families, children, women, all have to sleep on the streets. There is a shortage of food and clean water. We need urgent support."
The Taliban have already seized areas just a few kilometers from the city center. A major highway linking Lashkar Gar with Kandahar has been closed on and off for days both by roadside bombs and Taliban checkpoints. Residents say that only extensive bombing by the US has prevented the Taliban from taking over the entire province. In the past two weeks the US has mounted 25 strikes while hundreds of coalition advisers are helping out Afghan troops.
South of Lashkar Gah, the Taliban are making gains. District police chief Ahmad Salem sad: "Contact has been lost with police in some places. The Taliban have conquered some of our checkpoints. So far we haven’t received reinforcements, as well as food and ammunition. If we do not receive reinforcement soon, the district will collapse." Reinforcements were expected soon according to provincial police chief Brigadier General Aqa Kenotz
A huge opium harvest has helped fund the Taliban. Residents of Lashkar Gah fear that the city will fall. Resident Haji Qayum said: "The Taliban are in control of all the roads leading to Lashkar Gah. The police checkposts are falling one by one. There is a great fear the capital may fall to the Taliban." The Taliban are already said to control 10 of 14 districts in Helmand.
A NATO statement was relatively optimistic: "The situation down there remains tense and somewhat contested. It remains an ongoing security concern and there has been fighting down there for the last several weeks. We remain confident that the Afghan forces are fighting effectively and that they will continue to secure Lashkar Gah." Guilhem Molinie of Doctors Without Borders(MSF) said the charity had reduced its staff in Lashakar Gah but was maintaining emergency and surgical services. MSF has a 300-bed hospital in the city with 25 international staff.


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