Thousands Of Afghans Flee Homes As The Taliban Launches Major Offensive
By RFE/RL May 04, 2021
Thousands of people have fled their homes in Afghanistan's southern province of Helmand as Afghan security forces fought back a large-scale offensive after the United States began to pull its forces from the war-torn country.
Provincial council head Attaullah Afghan said on May 4 that the Taliban launched an ample offensive the previous day, attacking checkpoints around the outskirts of the regional capital of Lashkar Gah, taking over some of them.
The Afghan army launched air strikes and deployed elite commando forces to the area and the insurgents had been pushed back but fighting was continuing on May 4, Afghan added.
About 1,000 families were forced to flee their homes to escape the fighting, and took refuge in Lashkar Gah, the province's director for refugees said.
"Many who still have not found shelter in the city need urgent assistance," according to Sayed Mohammad Rami.
Although the United States did not meet the May 1 withdrawal deadline agreed in talks with the Taliban last year, it did begin to pull its forces on that date after President Joe Biden announced all troops will leave by September 11.
The decision was criticized by some, who argue that the militants will try to sweep back into power.
As part of the pullout, U.S. forces handed over a base in Helmand to Afghan troops two days ago.
The Afghan Defense Ministry said more than 100 Taliban fighters had been killed in the fighting in Helmand. It did not provide details on casualties among Afghan security forces.
It also said that government troops have been responding to attacks by the Taliban in at least six other provinces, including southeastern Ghazni and southern Kandahar, in the past 24 hours.
The Taliban did not immediately respond to request for comment.
The May 1 deadline for U.S. troops to pull out was agreed last year under former President Donald Trump. The Taliban rejected Biden's announcement that troops would instead withdraw over the next four and a half months.
The news of the militants' offensive came a day after the Pentagon dismissed what it called "small harassing attacks" on withdrawing international forces.
"What we've seen are some small harassing attacks over the course of the weekend that have not had any significant impact, certainly not on our people or our resources there and bases," Pentagon spokesman John Kirby told reporters on May 3.
U.S. generals have expressed concerns in recent weeks that the pullout might lead to the collapse of the Afghan government or a new civil war, despite reassurances by Afghan President Ashraf Ghani who insisted last week that government forces were "fully capable" of keeping militants at bay.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in London on May 3 that the United States was "not disengaging" and that "we intend to sustain our assistance" to Afghanistan despite the pullout.
With reporting by Reuters, AFP, and TOLOnews.com
Copyright (c) 2021. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.
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