Faced with recent Taliban gains in the big cities around Afghanistan, the US has launched a series of airstrikes, seemingly hoping to slow the progress of these offensives and give the Afghan government time to counter-attack.
The Taliban have been making gains in densely populated areas around provincial capitals. The US strikes are hitting those areas, focusing on Herat, Kandahar, and Lashkar Gah, each of which officials described as “endangered” cities.
The results of the strikes still aren’t all clear, but Lashkar Gah is taking the most strikes, and at least 40 Taliban were reported killed in strikes around the city, the capital of Helmand Province.
US officials confirmed being more active in Afghanistan in recent days, carrying out airstrikes against Taliban as they try to enter the cities, and then further strikes to try to keep them from gathering in forces inside the cities after they arrive.
So far, that doesn’t seem to have done much to prevent the Taliban from getting into the cities, or contesting control of them. The US strikes may be said to be slowing the losses and giving the Afghan government a bit of time to react.
Lashkar Gah is the smallest of the contested capitals, but in the worst shape. The Taliban has been contesting that area for years, and has taken the city off and on during the war. Helmand Province is considered particularly valuable because of its role in the opium trade.
The Taliban control a slight majority of Afghan districts according to most recent reports. The Afghans have downplayed this, saying they are focusing on retaining population centers and are shifting their defenses after the Taliban seize sparsely populated rural areas.
That was only true for a time, however, as now the Taliban has come into places like Kandahar and Herat, which are among the largest cities in Afghanistan. To make matters worse, even if the Afghan government is inclined to dispatch reinforcements, the losses in surrounding areas make such deployments longer, and more dangerous.