By Baber Khan Sahel
Kabul, Oct 12 (efe-epa).- Taliban has launched its first large-scale attack on the capital of southwestern Helmand province in Afghanistan since the signing of a peace deal with the United States in late February, officials said Monday.
The fighting began on Sunday on the outskirts of Lashkargah and its surrounding districts and continues.
“There have been clashes between security forces and terrorist Taliban in outskirts of Lashkargah city in Babaji area. There has been fighting in areas in Nawa, Nadali and Nahr-e-Saraj districts which are adjacent to Lashkargah city,” Helmand governor’s spokesperson Omar Zwak told EFE.
He did not give details as the fighting continued.
Interior Ministry spokesperson Tariq Arian told reporters in Kabul that government forces killed “80 fighters” of the Taliban and wounded “nearly 100.”
“Taliban are unable to stand against our forces. We will respond, with all our might and force, to every attack and offensive of the Taliban,” Arian said.
Meanwhile, provincial council member Abdul Majid Akhundzada told EFE that the insurgents had made some gains as intense fighting raged on in the city.
“Fourth district of Lashkargah city has been captured by the militants,” Akhundzada said, underlining that the exact number of casualties was not known given that the attack was still ongoing.
The Helmand governor’s office said in a statement that the government has deployed additional commandos and security forces from other parts of the country to Helmand province to push the Taliban back.
Moreover, a high ranking delegation, which included officials from the interior ministry, has arrived in the province to monitor the operation against the Taliban.
“President (Ashraf Ghani) assured the people of Helmand that the central government will fully support the security forces in the province and said that the attack on Helmand will have a heavy cost for the enemies,” Helmand governor office said in the statement.
Presidential spokesperson Sediq Sediqqi, in a press conference, said the government “strongly condemned” these attacks in which the insurgents destroyed roads and a power station facility in Helmand.
This is the first large scale attack by the Taliban against a provincial capital in the country since the group signed a peace agreement with the US in the Qatari capital of Doha on Feb.29.
In the agreement, the Taliban promised to reduce the violence and not to attack any urban area in the agreement with the US.
The agreement laid the groundwork for the intra-Afghan talks between the government and Taliban representatives, which are currently underway in Doha.
The parties in the intra-Afgan talks, which have been going on for the last one month, have so far failed to reach an agreement on the rules and regulations necessary for the main phase of the negotiations.
Sediqqi underlined that this attack undermined the peace process underway and showed that the Taliban “have no commitment to peace” and if this continued, it would shatter people’s hopes for an end to nearly two decades of war in the country.
“We call on the Taliban to stop violence and continue their negotiations in Doha with the government representatives,” the presidential spokesperson said.
United States Forces Afghanistan’s spokesperson Col. Sonny Leggett, quoting US NATO Commander Gen. Scott Miller, tweeted that they have conducted several targeted strikes in Helmand to defend Afghan forces under attack by Taliban fighters.