Afghan fighting rages as US forces’ exit nears

Published July 4, 2021
An Afghan National Army soldier stands guard at the gate of Bagram US air base, on the day the last of American troops vacated it, Parwan province, Afghanistan. — Reuters
An Afghan National Army soldier stands guard at the gate of Bagram US air base, on the day the last of American troops vacated it, Parwan province, Afghanistan. — Reuters

KABUL: Hundreds of Taliban fighters were killed in fierce battles with government forces across several provinces of Afghanistan, officials said on Saturday, as Washington announced it would finish withdrawing its troops from the country by the end of August.

Washington’s announcement came after all US and Nato troops vacated their main Bag­ram Air Base, from where the coalition forces led operations for two decades against the Tali­ban and their Al Qaeda allies.

Over the past 24 hours, more than 300 Taliban fighters were killed in fighting with government forces, the Ministry of Defence said on Saturday.

Scores were killed in air strikes, including a pre-dawn assault on Saturday, in the southern province of Helmand, where the insurgents and government troops have regularly clashed.

Taliban overrun nine Afghan military posts in Kunar province near Pakistan border

There have been fears that Afghan forces would struggle without the air support that the United States has provided.

“In recent days, the Afghan air force has intensified its air strikes against the Taliban hideouts and the insurgents have suffered casualties,” Attaullah Afghan, a member of Helmand provincial council, said.

The Taliban rejected the government’s claims.

Since May 1 when the US military began its final withdrawal of about 2,500 troops, the two Afghan warring sides have clashed fiercely across the rugged countryside as peace talks between them have faltered. As a result, the Taliban have seized dozens of districts in blistering assaults targeting government forces.

The exit of foreign troops from Bagram has further fuelled concerns the country might slide into new civil war, as in the 1990s after the Soviets left.

“I see history repeating. The Americans are doing the same what the Russians did. They are going without ending the war,” said Kabul resident Dawood Hotak.

“I feel our country will slide back into another civil war as the Taliban have intensified their attacks and the Americans are exiting.”

US President Joe Biden attempted to ease these concerns at the White House on Friday. He said the US military is keeping an “over the horizon capacity” which could bring firepower to help the government and its forces if needed. Media reports say the Pentagon will probably retain about 600 troops in Afghanistan to guard the vast US diplomatic compound in Kabul.

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki also said that the exit of foreign troops from Bagram did not mean that the overall withdrawal of foreign forces would be completed within days. Foreign troops would be out of Afghanistan “by the end of August”, she said, closer to the September 11 deadline set by Biden.

The insurgents, meanwhile, have encircled almost all major cities across the country, and on Saturday claimed seizing seven more districts in the northeastern province of Badakhshan.—AFP

Taliban captured nine posts of the Afghan National Army (ANA) in Kunar province near the Bajaur tribal district, our correspondent in the district reported.

Quoting security officials, he reported that up to 39 ANA personnel surrendered to the Taliban, while 31 others escaped to Pakistani territory after crossing the border. The sources said the fleeing Afghan soldiers took refuge at a Pakistani post in Ghakhi pass and later they were handed over to senior ANA officials.

This is the first time that the Taliban have run over military posts in the Afghan territory near the border.

The sources said the development was reported on Friday after a group of Afghan Taliban armed with heavy weapons arrived in Ghashikandaw locality of Marwara district of Kunar province and captured nine ANA posts.

According to the sources, the Taliban had laid siege to the military posts for several days. During the siege, the ANA soldiers were supplied drinking water from the Pakistani side. An injured soldier was handed over to ANA in Arandu town of Chitral.

A video clip released to several news outlets soon after the incidents shows a group of Afghan Taliban standing inside the Afghan military posts and congratulating each other over their victory.

Published in Dawn, July 4th, 2021

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