The United Nations has called on Afghanistan’s warring parties to do more to protect civilians, warning that the impact of “indiscriminate” gunfire and air raids will be “catastrophic”.
The Taliban ground offensive and Afghan forces’ air raids are causing the most harm, the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) noted in a series of tweets on Tuesday.
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“Taliban ground offensive & ANA air strikes causing most harm,” the UNAMA posted, referring to the Afghan National Army.
“Deep concerns about indiscriminate shooting & damage to/occupation of health facilities & civilian homes.”
Since the start of the withdrawal of international forces from Afghanistan in May, the Taliban has intensified its attacks, making significant territorial gains, especially in rural areas of Afghanistan
Thousands of people have been displaced, while the United States and the United Kingdom have accused the Taliban of committing “war crimes” and “massacring civilians”.
Several provincial capitals have been encircled by the Taliban and heavy fighting has been going on for days now in the capitals of Helmand and Kandahar provinces in the south, as well as in the city of Herat – capital of the eponymous province – in the west.
Reporting from Kabul, Al Jazeera’s James Bays said Lashkar Gah, capital of Helmand province, is witnessing its heaviest fighting in recent days and that Taliban fighters are in the heart of the city.
“The battle for Lashkar Gah is well underway at the moment,” he said.
“There is fighting around the governor’s compound, around the police headquarters, around the prison, around the key buildings in the centre of the city and the gunfire we are told is pretty much non-stop as the intense fighting continues.”
Bays, citing the Afghan health ministry, said at least 38 people have died in the past three days and 156 others wounded in Lashkar Gah.
Officials said the Taliban has seized nearly a dozen local radio and TV stations in the city, leaving only one pro-Taliban channel broadcasting Islamic programming.
“Fighting was intense this morning,” said Sefatullah, director of Sukon radio in Lashkar Gah.
“We stopped broadcasting two days ago because the Taliban captured the building of our station.”
The loss of Lashkar Gah would be a significant strategic and psychological blow for the government, which has pledged to defend cities at all costs after losing much of the countryside to the Taliban over the summer.
In Herat, also under siege, hundreds of residents chanted “Allah-u-Akbar” (Allah is the greatest) from their rooftops after government forces repulsed the latest Taliban assault.
Afghan officials in Herat said government forces had managed to push back Taliban fighters from several areas of the city, including near the airport, which is vital for resupplies.
“Afghan security forces plus resistance forces launched a big operation in west of the city,” said Jailani Farhad, spokesman for Herat’s governor.
A hospital source in Herat told the DPA news agency it had received 24 bodies and nearly 200 wounded people in the past six days. Among the victims were members of the security forces.
Another source from the Kandahar Health Department said 28 deaths and 191 injured people were recorded in the province in the past 10 days.