Taliban launches huge offensive in Afghanistan's Helmand province

Afghan security forces fought back a huge Taliban offensive just two days after United States forces handed control of a local base back to ...


Afghan security forces fought back a huge Taliban offensive just two days after United States forces handed control of a local base back to the country's army. 

The Taliban launched a massive offensive in Afghanistan's Helmand province on Monday while fighting continued the next day, officials and residents claimed on Tuesday.

Afghan security forces fought back against the offensive just two days after a handover ceremony, which saw US forces give control of Antonik camp in Helmand to the Afghan National Army (ANA).

The offensive comes after militants launched assaults around the country following a missed US deadline to withdraw troops from the country, as agreed in talks with the Taliban last year.

Attaullah Afghan, the head of Helmand's provincial council, said the Taliban launched their offensive on Monday from multiple directions, attacking checkpoints around the outskirts of Lashkar Gah, taking over some of them.

Speaking about the offensive, one resident claimed that families who could afford to leave fled, but he was forced to wait with his family in fear before the Taliban were pushed back.


Mulah Jan, a resident of a suburb of provincial capital Lashkar Gah, added: 'There was a thunderstorm of heavy weapons and blasts in the city and the sound of small arms was like someone was making popcorn.

'I took all my family members to the corner of the room, hearing the heavy blasts and bursts of gunfire as if it was happening behind our walls.' 

The insurgents were pushed back after Afghan security forces launched air strikes and deployed elite commando forces, but fighting continued on Tuesday and hundreds of families had been displaced, according to Attaullah Afghan.

The Afghan defence ministry said just more than 100 Taliban fighters had been killed in Helmand but did not provide details on casualties among Afghan security forces. The Taliban did not immediately respond to request for comment.


A Taliban surge in Helmand would have particular resonance, as the desert province was where US and British forces suffered the bulk of their losses during the 20-year war.

The defence ministry said security forces had also been responding to attacks by the Taliban in at least six other provinces in the past 24 hours, including southeastern Ghazni and southern Kandahar.

Although the United States did not meet the May 1 withdrawal deadline agreed in talks with the Taliban last year, the pullout is currently underway.

As part of the withdrawal, US forces handed over over a base in Helmand to Afghan troops just two days ago, where a handover ceremony took place at Antonik camp. 

President Joe Biden announced earlier this month his plan to pullout the United States' remaining 2,500 troops on September 11, the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.

The initial May 1 deadline for US troops to withdraw from the country was agreed last year under former President Donald Trump.

The Taliban rejected Biden's announcement that troops would stay on and withdraw over the next four-and-a-half months, while the deadline has been met with a surge in violence.

A car bomb in Logar province killed almost 30 people on Friday, while at least seven Afghan military personnel were killed when the Taliban set off explosives smuggled through a tunnel they had dug into an army outpost in southwestern Farah province on Monday.

Islamists, emboldened by Joe Biden's decision to pull troops out of the country, have warned the US and its Nato allies there will be 'problems' should they fail to beat a swift retreat in September.

Biden's decision appeared to be a unilateral choice which ignored dates set by the Taliban and Afghan government in their Doha Agreement in February last year following peace talks brokered by Washington.

It was billed as an 'agreement for bringing peace' and stated that US and NATO allies would have to withdraw from Afghanistan within 14 months, by May 1, 2021, provided both parties upheld their side of the treaty.

Biden's new timeline to September infuriated the Taliban which has now sought to distance itself from the US-led push for peace.

The group said earlier this month that its delegates would no longer travel to Turkey for a peace conference intended to jump start negotiations.

Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid said those responsible for delaying the removal of US and NATO troops from Afghanistan would be 'held liable'. 

Previously taking to Twitter, Mujahid said: 'If the [Doha] agreement is breached and foreign forces fail to exit our country on the specified date, problems will certainly be compounded and those whom failed to comply with the agreement will be held liable'. 

The news has sparked concerns the Taliban will push its spring offensive, a rise in attacks that usually takes place as the weather gets warmer. 

Politicians on both sides of the Atlantic have warned that Biden's plan to withdraw risks creating a power vacuum which the Taliban is already seeking to fill.

The Taliban continue to gain more ground despite the central government in Kabul, which will grow weaker as the final American troops leave the country in September.

Experts have warned a successful withdrBut months of negotiations, launched in Doha, Qatar, in September, have failed to yield tangible results, and violence in Afghanistan has spiked as talks stalled.

Relations within the Afghan government have also made negotiating a slow process as President Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah, the government's peace talks representative, continue to bicker over policy.

An annual threat assessment by the US Director of National Intelligence released last month said the chance of a peace deal in the next 12 months 'remains low'.

It said 'the Taliban is likely to make gains on the battlefield, and the Afghan Government will struggle to hold the Taliban at bay if the coalition withdraws support'.

After withdrawing, the US aims to rely on Afghan military and police forces, which they have developed with billions of dollars in funding, to maintain security, though peace talks are struggling and the insurgency is resilient.

A key reason for a coordinated withdrawal is the fact that Nato relies on US airlift capabilities and shipping to move valuable equipment back home out of landlocked Afghanistan.

Nato also wants to avoid any hardware falling into the hands of militants, as happened after the U.S. withdrawal from Iraq.

 awal of troops hinges on a strong peace deal between the Taliban and Afghan government.Sultana explained: 'With the return of Taliban, society will be transformed and ruined.

'Women will be sent into hiding, they'll be forced to wear the burqa to go out of their homes.'

The Taliban, who ruled until the 2001 US led-invasion, banned beauty salons as part of a notoriously harsh ideology that often hit women and girls the hardest - forbidding them education and the right to work or to travel outside their home unaccompanied by a male relative.

The women know how reversible the gains made, including girls being in school and women in parliament, government and business, since the Taliban's ouster can be in an overwhelmingly male-dominated, deeply conservative society.

'Women in Afghanistan who raise their voices have been oppressed and ignored,' Sultana said. 'The majority of Afghan women will be silent. They know they will never receive any support.'

The owner of the beauty salon, Ms Sadat, was born in Iran to refugee parents and was forbidden to own a business there, leading her to return to her homeland, which she had never seen, to start her salon 10 years ago.

Ms Sadat, who asked not to be identified by her full name due to the fear of becoming a target, admitted she has become more cautious as violence and random bombings have increased in Kabul the past year.

The owner no longer drives her own car while other women working in the salon dread a restored Taliban, with one saying, 'Just the name of the Taliban horrifies us'.

Tamila Pazhman said she wants peace, but not 'the old Afghanistan back'. She added: 'If we know we will have peace, we will wear the hijab while we work and study. But there must be peace.'

As US troops begin to withdraw, Mahbouba Seraj, a women's rights activist, said woman are watching the stalemated peace negotiations between the Taliban and the Afghan government closely.

The US is pushing for a power-sharing government that includes the Taliban, but Seraj said women want written guarantees from the Taliban they won't reverse the gains made by women in the past 20 years. She explained: 'I am not frustrated that the Americans are leaving ... the time was coming that the Americans would go home.' 

The executive director of Afghan Women's Skill Development added that they also want the international community to hold the insurgent movement to its commitments.

'We keep yelling and screaming and saying, for God's sake, at least do something with the Taliban, take some kind of assurance from them... a mechanism to be put in place' that guarantees women's rights,' she added.

In a statement last week, the Taliban outlined the type of government they seek and promised that women 'can serve their society in the education, business, health and social fields while maintaining correct Islamic hijab'.

It also promised girls would have the right to choose their husbands, considered deeply unacceptable in many traditional and tribal homes in Afghanistan, where husbands are chosen by their parents.

But the statement offered few further details, nor did it guarantee women could participate in politics or have freedom to move unaccompanied by a male relative.

Many have expressed worry that the vague terms the Taliban use in their promises, like 'correct hijab' or guaranteeing rights 'provided under Islamic law' give them a wide margin to impose hard-line interpretations.

According to an index kept by Georgetown University's Institute for Women, Peace and Security, Afghanistan remains one of the worst countries in the world for women, after only Yemen and Syria.

In many rural areas, women still wake at dawn, do heavy labour in the home and fields and wear traditional coverings, while one in three girls is married before 18, most often in forced marriages, according to UN estimates.

Meanwhile, religious conservatives who dominate the Parliament have prevented passage of a Protection of Women bill.

In Afghanistan, 54 per cent of its 36 million people live below the poverty level of $1.90 a day and runaway government corruption has swallowed up hundreds of millions of dollars, rights workers and watchdogs claim.

Kobra, 60, who works at a bakery in Kabul's Karte Sakhi neighborhood, makes around 100 Afghanis a day ($1.30) working in a brick shack blackened by soot in front of a clay oven dug into the floor.The work is backbreaking with smoke filling her lungs and flames scorching her, but she is the only wage earner for her sick husband and five children.

Kobra admitted she isn't looking forward to a Taliban return as she is Hazara, an ethnic minority that has faced violence from the Taliban and other Sunni groups.

But she also accused the current government of 'eating all the money' sent for Afghanistan's poor to feed their own corruption.

For months, she has tried to collect a stipend for the poor worth about $77 but each time she is told her name is not on the list.

'Who took my name?' she said. 'You have to know someone, have a contact in the government or you will never receive anything.'

Her daughter Zarmeena, 13, also works by her side in the Kabul bakery, helping to knead the dough and sweep the soot-coated floor. 

Neighbourhood women bring their dough to be baked, and Zarmeena kneads it and puts it into the oven. They yell insults at her if she accidentally drops it into the fire.

Zameena has never been to school because her mother needs her in the bakery, though her younger brother, seven, is in school. 

'If I could go... I would be a doctor,' she said.

Nearly 3.7 million Afghan children between seven and 17 are out of school, most of them girls, according to the United Nations Children Education Fund.

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South Punjab News : Taliban launches huge offensive in Afghanistan's Helmand province
Taliban launches huge offensive in Afghanistan's Helmand province
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South Punjab News
https://www.southpunjabnews.com/2021/05/afghan-security-forces-fought-back-huge.html
https://www.southpunjabnews.com/
https://www.southpunjabnews.com/
https://www.southpunjabnews.com/2021/05/afghan-security-forces-fought-back-huge.html
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