The Taliban have reportedly captured a police headquarters in a key provincial capital in southern Afghanistan. Now as the insurgents tighten their grip on the region and the country’s president replaced his army chief.
- Fighting raged on Thursday in Lashkar Gah, one of Afghanistan’s largest cities in the Taliban heartland of Helmand province, where government forces have become surrounded after the militants’ weeklong blitz.
- Although the government hopes to hold onto Lashkar Gah, a suicide car bombing on Wednesday marked the latest attack targeting the capital’s regional police headquarters.
- By Thursday, the Taliban had taken the building, with some police officers surrendering to the militants and others retreating to the nearby governor’s office that was still held being by government forces, said Nasima Niazi, a lawmaker from Helmand.
- The Taliban has already seized nine other provincial capitals around the country and has freed hundreds of its members over the last week. It’s bolstering their ranks while seizing American-supplied weapons and vehicles.
- Afghan security forces and the government have not responded to repeated requests for comment over the days of fighting. However, President Ashraf Ghani is trying to rally a counteroffensive relying on his country’s special forces, the militias of warlords and American airpower ahead of the US and Nato withdrawal at the end of the month.
- The success of the Taliban offensive also calls into question whether they would ever rejoin long-stalled peace talks in Qatar aimed at moving Afghanistan toward an inclusive interim administration. Instead, the Taliban could come to power by force or the country could splinter into factional fighting like it did after the Soviet withdrawal in 1989.
The latest US military intelligence assessment is that Kabul could come under insurgent pressure within 30 days and that if current trends hold, the Taliban could gain full control of the country within a couple of months.