Afghan Forces Launch Counter-Offensive in Helmand Capital

Heavy airstrikes launch to back new push into Lashkar Gah

Overnight Wednesday into Thursday, the Afghan military launched a major new counter-offensive in the Helmand Provincial capital of Lashkar Gah. Nine of the city’s 10 districts had fallen already, and the Taliban have been making inroads into the last one.

The government has pushed back into the city backed by airstrikes, and are reiterating calls for civilians to flee from the city, saying the Taliban are using civilian homes and warning airstrikes could hit those areas.

Several days of orders to evacuate have seen those capable of doing so leave, but perhaps tens of thousands of civilians remain trapped in the city, with intense fighting in the streets making it impossible to get out of a lot of areas.

Taliban say that the goal is to capture Helmand, Kandahar, and Herat Provinces, and that others could be hit after that. The Taliban had long focused on sparsely defended rural areas, but in recent weeks has been hitting big cities.

Before the attacks on provincial capitals, the US and Afghan officials were downplaying the loss of rural areas, saying that control of the cities was more important. Now, with cities starting to fall, the US says that the national capital of Kabul is much less at risk than the other major cities.

The UN warns that as fighting centers on cities, civilians are more and more at risk. The Afghan government’s go-to response to order civilians out of the cities they’re fighting in, however, suggests many will still be stuck in the attacks.

Author: Jason Ditz

Jason Ditz is senior editor of Antiwar.com.