August 13, 2021 | FDD's Long War Journal

After lengthy siege, Lashkar Gah is taken by the Taliban

August 13, 2021 | FDD's Long War Journal

After lengthy siege, Lashkar Gah is taken by the Taliban

Lashkar Gah, the capital of Helmand province, fell to the Taliban after a lengthy seige. With Helmand and Kandahar provinces in the hands of the Taliban, the rest of the south will go under Taliban control in short order.

Taliban spokesman Qari Yousef Ahmadi announced the fall of Lashkar Gah in a statement that touted the Taliban’s victories in the provinces Kandahar, Herat, Helmand, and Badghis over the span of 24 hours.

“The most important provinces of the country, Kandahar, Helmand, Herat and Badghis were totally conquered,” Ahmadi stated.

The collapse of Lashkar Gah is the latest in a string of defeats for the Afghan government. Over the past week, the Taliban seized control of 12 of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces and 14 of its provincial capitals. Southern and western Afghanistan are firmly in the hands of the Taliban. Tarin Kot, the capital of Uruzgan, and Qalat, the capital of Zabul, are expected to go under Taliban control shortly.

Al Qaeda and its regional branch, Al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent, has maintained an extensive network in Helmand province over the years. Al Qaeda is currently operating a training camp Baramcha in Disho district in Helmand province [FDD’s Long War Journal reported the existence of these camps in 2015.] The U.S. and Afghan militaries have launched numerous strikes and raids against Al Qaeda’s network over the past decade. The most significant operation took place on Sept. 23, 2019 in the district of Musa Qala. During a joint U.S. and Afghan operation, Asim Umar, the head of Al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent, was killed. Several Al Qaeda and Taliban leaders were also killed alongside Umar, including the courier to Al Qaeda’s emir, Ayman al Zawahiri.

The Battle of Lashkar Gah

Since the beginning of its campaign to restore the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan by force in May 2021, the Taliban has set its sights on Helmand’s capital. The Taliban prepared the battlefield by launching attacks against military outposts on the outskirts of the city. Afghan Commandos were sent to the city on May 25 to ensure its security after the city’s security forces began to cede ground to Taliban forces. These Commandos, along with limited American airstrikes, were able to successfully stave off the insurgents through June.

In July, fighting intensified, as the Taliban detonated a bomb within the city on July 11 that killed three civilians. This was followed by an increased Taliban focus on the siege of Helmand’s capital, with local officials fearing for the city’s collapse in the middle of July. By July 22, the Afghan military was pulling troops from southern Helmand in order to garrison Lashkar Gah, yet the Taliban continued its offensive, working its way towards the city’s center. The city’s Police District 5 was conquered by the Taliban on July 29, signaling the security forces’ increasing inability to repel the assault and assert control of the key city.

By the start of August, the United States had ramped up its airstrikes in order to support the beleaguered Afghan forces. However, the Taliban continued to advance throughout the city. By Aug. 2, the Taliban fighters had captured all but one of the city’s police districts and were fighting within 200 meters of the provincial governor’s compound at the center of the city.

The increased U.S. airstrikes, launched from B-52s, AC-130s, and drones, were killing Taliban fighters, but failed to blunt the stunning Taliban blitzkrieg through Afghanistan’s fourth largest city. Not even the massive influx of Commandos that Kabul poured into Helmand could fend off the Taliban offensive in Lashkar Gah, as its fighters restricted security forces to small sections of the city with the help of their elite Red Units.

Government forces urged civilians to evacuate the city as airstrikes from the United States and Afghan Air Force, as well as Taliban rocket attacks, intensified. Even as the Taliban advanced to the gate of the Helmand police headquarters and dozens of Afghan soldiers surrendered, the Afghan government continued to funnel hundreds of Commandos into the city in a futile attempt to prevent its collapse. On Aug. 11, the Taliban detonated a massive car bomb outside Lashkar Gah’s police command, paving the way for their conquest of this crucial choke point of the ANDSF’s defense of the city. On Aug. 12, after weeks of intense fighting, Taliban followers claimed the group took control of the Bost airport as well as the governor’s office. The battle was over.

Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of The Long War Journal, where Andrew Tobin is an intern. Follow Bill on Twitter @billroggio. FDD is a nonpartisan think tank focused on foreign policy and national security issues.

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Issues:

Afghanistan Al Qaeda Jihadism Military and Political Power The Long War U.S. Defense Policy and Strategy