The Taliban’s new offensive into the capital of Helmand province was signaled by rockets being fired at the governor’s compound while the capital itself, Lashkar Gah, is at grave risk of being completely overrun by the Taliban – this being the second major Afghan city to be overrun in just over a week.
An emboldened Taliban seeks to capture Lashkar Gah by exploiting weakness in the Afghan forces: being stretched too thin. Afghan forces are still trying to regain full control of Kunduz from the Taliban while fighting other Taliban offensives in other provinces (in August, Stratfor published its report on the Taliban and its strategic move of ‘making peace’ with Islamic State to free up its fighters).
The Taliban, utilizing a modified version of attrition warfare, is successfully grinding the morale down of Afghan forces in several provincial capitals where most are in danger of collapse including Farah in the southwest, Pul-i-Khumri in the northeast, and Tarin Kot in the south.
Kunduz, a once Taliban-held city in September 2015, was liberated by U.S. and Afghan forces several days later only to be overrun by the Taliban again just last week. This was a huge blow to the Afghan government as a delegation headed to Brussels for an aid conference, where donors pledged $15.2 billion for the next four years, arrived with the news that the Taliban was rapidly gaining control of the provincial capitals.
Around 24,000 civilians fled Kunduz since the Taliban seized it and sought refuge in other provinces, which put an even bigger strain on the humanitarian effort and resources. On Wednesday, it was reported that U.S.-backed Afghan forces once again, pushed the Taliban back out of Kunduz.
The fighting in Helmand province alone has been extremely intense, thus causing a higher casualty count for the Afghan police and army than in any other area in Afghanistan. Helmand province is the primary location for narcotics production and trade that the Taliban uses for its financial income. An Afghan official said,
“They have overrun several police outposts that make up the security belt around the city. We don’t know the numbers [of casualties or those who defected to the Taliban] at this stage. There is a heavy battle is ongoing in the city.”
Adding to the mounting pressure and intense fighting is the latest attack by Islamic State on Shi’ite Muslims in Kabul where 14 people were killed. Islamic State ratcheting up attacks in Afghanistan will definitely stretch Afghan troops and police resources very thin if the Taliban hasn’t done so already; this coupled with the rampant corruption inside the Afghan government makes a bad situation even worse with U.S. lives right in the crosshairs.