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The Taliban Is Fighting for Control of an Opium-Rich Provincial Capital in Afghanistan

The fighting near the city of Lashkar Gah comes three weeks after the Taliban scored a major victory by briefly capturing the northern city of Kunduz.
Photo by Abdul Khaliq/AP

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Afghan government forces in the Babaji area of Lashkar Gah city continue to clash with the Taliban as the insurgency advances on the capital of Afghanistan's Helmand province.

The fighting near the southern city comes three weeks after the Taliban won its biggest victory in the 14-year war, capturing the northern city of Kunduz and holding much of it for three days before government forces regained control.


Helmand province is one of the world's biggest centers of opium cultivation. The area's complex mix of warring tribal groups and Taliban insurgents is a chronic problem for the Western-backed government.

Provincial Governor Mirza Khan Rahimi said Tuesday that heavy fighting had been going on for two days in the district of Gereshk to the north of the city. The fighting has threatened Highway One, the main transport artery linking the major southern city of Kandahar with Herat.

Farhad Dawary, head of the local Civil Societies Union, which represents non-government social organizations, said that the battle for Lashkar Gah had driven families from outlying areas to withdraw within the city, though many of them are already trying to flee.

Related: Obama Is Now Halting US Troop Withdrawal from Afghanistan

Meanwhile, there were also reports of heavy fighting in the Ghurian district near the major western city of Herat. Last week, the Taliban also threatened the city of Ghazni, southwest of Kabul, cutting off the main route between Kabul and Kandahar for three days. They were reported to have overrun the district of Ghormach in Faryab province on the northern border with Turkmenistan earlier this week.

The fall of Kunduz at the end of last month came as a profound shock in Afghanistan, piling pressure on the government of President Ashraf Ghani and raising questions over the capacity of security forces to maintain stability.

The Taliban's advance in the south also comes days after US President Barack Obama reversed a previous promise to fully withdraw troops from Afghanistan before the end of his second term in office. Obama said last Thursday while he did not support an "endless war," a continued American presence in the country was necessary to keep back threats from the Taliban, al Qaeda, and Islamic State militants. At least 5,500 troops will now remain after 2017.

Afghan government forces, which have taken on the bulk of fighting since international troops ended most combat operations last year, have struggled to contain the Taliban, which has stretched the army in a series of operations across the country.