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Airstrikes pummel Taliban in Afghan south; insurgents gain in north

The Taliban have been on the offensive in recent months, as U.S. and NATO forces complete their pullout from the war-torn country.

KABUL, Afghanistan — The Afghan air force carried out more airstrikes against Taliban positions in southern Afghanistan on Thursday, as the insurgent force made additional gains in the country's north.

The European Union, the United Nations and Human Rights Watch urged both sides to avoid causing civilian casualties as the fighting rages on.

The Taliban have been on the offensive in recent months, as U.S. and NATO forces complete their pullout from the war-torn country. They have taken vast swaths of land and have now turned their guns on larger urban centers.

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A defense ministry statement said airstrikes were carried out across the country, including in the southern Helmand province, where the provincial capital of Lashkar Gah is being fiercely contested. The Taliban control nine of the city's 10 police districts.

Residents in Lashkar Gah reported heavy bombing near the government radio and television station, which is under Taliban control. Several wedding halls and a guesthouse of the provincial governor are located near the station.

The fighting has driven thousands of people from Kandahar and Helmand provinces in the south to seek refuge in Kandahar city, which is under siege by the Taliban. Government forces control only three of Kandahar province's 17 districts.

The battle for the city remains at a stalemate despite days of ground and air operations. Most of the markets are closed, and people in the four displacement camps lack proper access to water under a scorching sun.

In northern Afghanistan, the Taliban have taken control of most of the provincial capital of Sar-e-Pul, the head of their council, Mohammad Noor Rahmani, said. In recent months, the group has gained control of dozens of districts across several provinces in the north.

Meanwhile, Jawzjan province in the north remains under a three-month Taliban attack. The stronghold of Marshal Rashid Dostum, an Uzbek warlord, it has lost eight out of 10 districts to the insurgents, who continue to advance on the capital, Shibirghan city.

The Taliban onslaught seems to have intensified with the start of the final withdrawal of U.S. and NATO troops in late April.

Afghan National Army commando forces stand guard along a road amid ongoing fighting in Herat province on August 1, 2021.Hoshang Hasimi / AFP - Getty Images

As attacks intensify, Afghan security forces and government troops have retaliated with increasing airstrikes, aided by the United States. This has raised growing concerns about civilian casualties across the country.

“We can tell you that we are deeply concerned about the safety and protection of people in Lashkar Gah, in the south, where tens of thousands of people could be trapped by fighting,” Stephane Dujarric, the United Nations spokesman said Wednesday.

“We, along with our humanitarian partners in Afghanistan, are assessing needs and responding in the south, as access allows,” he said.

People living in urban centers have stared a campaign in support of Afghan forces and saying no to violence in the country, shouting “Allahu Akbar” or "God is great," starting from western Herat and continuing to other provinces.