Afghan fighting rages as US and UK accuse Taliban of massacring civilians
Afghan forces battled to stop a first major city from falling to the Taliban Monday as the United States and Britain accused the insurgents of "massacring civilians" in a town they recently captured near the Pakistan border.
Taliban fighters assaulted at least three provincial capitals overnight — Lashkar Gah, Kandahar and Herat — after a weekend of heavy fighting that saw thousands of civilians flee the advancing militants.
The war has intensified since early May, with the insurgents capitalising on the final stages of the withdrawal of US-led foreign forces after almost 20 years.
“The reason for our current situation is that the decision was taken abruptly,” Ghani told parliament, referring to the withdrawal of foreign forces.
His comments came as the United States said it will take in thousands more Afghan refugees as violence surged across the country.
Washington has already started evacuating thousands of interpreters and their families who worked with the military and embassy over the past two decades.
The United States and Britain on Monday accused the Taliban of atrocities that may amount to “war crimes” in the town of Spin Boldak, which the insurgents captured last month along the border with Pakistan.
“The Taliban’s leadership must be held responsible for the crimes of their fighters. If you cannot control your fighters now, you have no business in governance later.”
“After taking over Spin Boldak district, the Taliban chased and identified past and present government officials and killed these people who had no combat role in the conflict,” the group said, adding at least 40 people had been killed by the Taliban.
“Afghan forces on the ground and by air strikes repelled the attack,” the military in Helmand said.
Medical charity Doctors Without Border said casualties were mounting in Lashkar Gah.
Helmand for years was the centrepiece of the US and British military campaign in Afghanistan — only for it to slip deeper into instability.
The loss of Lashkar Gah would be a massive strategic and psychological blow for the government, which has pledged to defend provincial capitals at all costs after losing much of the rural countryside to the Taliban over the summer.
Fighting also surged in some districts of Kandahar province, the former bastion of the insurgents, and on the outskirts of its capital.
Kabul has repeatedly dismissed the insurgents’ steady gains over the summer as lacking strategic value, but has largely failed to reverse their momentum.
“If Afghan cities fall… the US decision to withdraw from Afghanistan will be remembered as one of the most notable strategic blunders in American foreign policy,” Australia-based Afghanistan expert Nishank Motwani told AFP.