As fighting rages in Lashkar Gah, United Nations says at least 40 civilians killed in 24 hours.
Residents were urged on Tuesday to evacuate a besieged Afghan city as the Army prepared a major offensive against Taliban insurgents after three days of heavy fighting.
The Taliban have seized control of much of rural Afghanistan since foreign forces began the last stage of their withdrawal in May, but are now focussed on capturing provincial capitals, where they are meeting stiffer resistance.
Fighting is raging for Lashkar Gah, the capital of southern Helmand province, with the United Nations saying at least 40 civilians were killed in the last 24 hours.
General Sami Sadat, commander of the 215 Maiwand Afghan Army Corps, told residents to get out as soon as they could. “Please leave as soon as possible so that we can start our operation,” he said in a message to the city of 2,00,000 delivered via the media.
“Fighting was intense this morning,” said Sefatullah, director of Sukon radio.
He said U.S. and Afghan Air Force planes had pounded Taliban positions, and that fighting was ongoing near the city’s prison and a building housing the headquarters of police and intelligence agencies.
In recent days, the U.S. military has intensified air strikes in a bid to stem Taliban advances.
“The Taliban are everywhere in the city, you can see them on motorcycles in the streets. They are arresting or shooting people who have smartphones,” a resident of Lashkar Gah said.
“The Taliban are in people’s houses and the government is bombing them. About 20 houses in my neighbourhood have been bombed, they are fighting street-to-street battles,” he said.
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