US continues airstrikes in support of Afghan troops battling Taliban, general says

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The United States will continue airstrikes in support of Afghan forces fighting the Taliban, a top US general said Sunday, as insurgents continue offensives across the country.

Violence has escalated since early May after the insurgents launched a large-scale attack just days after US-led foreign troops began their final withdrawal.

The deadly Taliban attack has led the insurgents to take dozens of districts and border crossings and surround several provincial capitals.

“The United States has launched more airstrikes in support of Afghan forces in recent days, and we are prepared to continue this increased level of support in the coming weeks if the Taliban continue their attacks,” US Army chief General Kenneth McKenzie Central Command, told reporters in Kabul.

McKenzie acknowledged that the Afghan government was in for tough days, but insisted that the Taliban were still a long way from victory.

“The Taliban are trying to create a sense of inevitability about their campaign. They are wrong,” he said.

“The Taliban’s victory is not inevitable.”

McKenzie’s comments came as Afghan officials in southern Kandahar province said fighting in the region had displaced about 22,000 families in the past month.

“They have all moved from the unstable areas of the city to safer areas,” Dost Mohammad Daryab, head of the provincial refugee branch, told AFP.

On Sunday, the fighting continued on the outskirts of the city of Kandahar.

“The negligence of some security forces, especially the police, has given way to the Taliban to come so close,” Lalai Dastageeri, deputy governor of Kandahar province, told AFP.

“We are now trying to organize our security forces.”

Fear that fighting will increase

Local authorities had set up four camps for the displaced, estimated to be about 154,000.

Kandahar resident Hafiz Mohammad Akbar said his home was taken over by the Taliban after he fled.

“They forced us to leave… I now live with my 20-member family in a compound without a toilet,” Akbar said.

Residents expressed concern that fighting could intensify in the coming days.

“If they really want to fight, they should go to a desert and fight, not destroy the city,” said Khan Mohammad, who moved to a camp with his family.

“Even if they win, they can’t run a ghost town.”

Kandahar with its 650,000 inhabitants is the second largest city in Afghanistan after Kabul.

The southern province was the epicenter of the Taliban regime when they ruled Afghanistan between 1996 and 2001.

The Taliban, who were ousted from power in a US-led invasion after the September 11 attacks in 2001, have led a deadly insurgency that continues to this day.

Their latest offensive launched in early May has seen the group take over half of the country’s 400 or so districts.

Earlier this week, US Chiefs of Staff General Mark Milley said the Taliban appear to have “strategic momentum” on the battlefield.

Rights group points to evidence of Taliban abuse

International human rights organization Human Rights Watch said there were reports of the Taliban committing atrocities against civilians in areas they had conquered, including the town of Spin Boldak near the border with Pakistan that they captured earlier this month.

“Taliban leaders have denied responsibility for any wrongdoing, but growing evidence of evictions, arbitrary detentions and killings in areas under their control is fueling fear among the population,” Patricia Grossman, associate director of Asia at HRW, said in a statement.

Authorities meanwhile announced that they had arrested four men they believed to be Taliban members and accused them of carrying out this week’s rocket attack on Kabul.

“A Taliban commander, Momin, has been arrested along with his three other men. They all belong to the Taliban group,” ministry spokesman Mirwais Stanikzai told reporters in a video message.

At least three rockets landed near the palace on Tuesday as President Ashraf Ghani and his top officials held outdoor prayers to mark the start of the Islamic holiday of Eid al-Adha.

However, the attack was claimed by the jihadist group Islamic State.

(AFP)