Afghanistan begins major anti-Taliban operation in besieged Lashkargah
By Baber Khan Sahel
Kabul, Aug 5 (EFE).- Afghan troops have begun a major offensive against the Taliban in a key southern city with house-to-house searches to evacuate civilians, an army spokesperson said Thursday.
The counterattack against the insurgents, who have stepped up their efforts to capture urban centers, began late Wednesday in the besieged Lashkargah city, the capital of the southern Helmand province.
“We began the large-scale clearing operation in Lashkargah last night to clear the city of Taliban fighters hiding in civilian houses,” the spokesperson, Qader Bahadarzoy, told EFE.
Hundreds of elite Afghan forces are taking part in the operation.
“They are hitting the Taliban hard,” Bahadarzoy said.
He said the Afghan air force is bombing the Taliban hideouts and positions to support the ground operations.
“Dozens of terrorists were killed by special forces just in the past few hours,” he said.
The spokesperson had earlier insisted that the counteroffensive would not begin until the evacuation of civilians from the city.
Despite several warnings from the army and ongoing heavy gunfire, “most of the citizens remain in their homes because they have nowhere to go,” a provincial council member told EFE on anonymity.
The fighting has forced thousands of civilians to flee their homes in the last two days.
“Taliban fighters are using civilians as human shields,” Bahadarzoy said.
The Afghan defense ministry said the forces killed 200 Taliban fighters on the city outskirts.
On Tuesday, at least 40 civilians lost their lives, and more than 100 suffered injuries in intense clashes between the insurgents and Afghan security forces in Lashkargah.
The army called for the evacuation of civilians for an operation by the elite forces against the militants.
In recent days, the Taliban have captured most of the neighborhoods in the city and are fighting to control government buildings.
The security forces managed to repel a massive Taliban attack against the provincial police headquarters, a police officer said on the condition of anonymity.
Gen. Sami Sadat, who is leading the battle against the Taliban in Helmand, said the counteroffensive in Lashkargah would be a “decisive step to liberate” the city.
The general posted a video on Facebook that shows the start of the operation.
The clip shows him ordering his troops to begin by shouting “Allah o Akbar” (Allah is the greatest), a slogan that has become a new war cry in resisting the Taliban.