Taliban Commander Leading Assault on Afghan City Was Part of Prisoner Swap US 'Pressured' Kabul Into
Heavy clashes are taking place between Afghanistan forces and the Taliban* in several Afghan cities following the withdrawal of US and NATO forces from the country, despite ongoing peace talks between the government and the Islamist militant group in the Qatari capital of Doha.
As the Taliban* continues to advance
on major cities in Afghanistan amid the withdrawal
of US and NATO forces, the group’s commander overseeing an assault on Lashkargah is one of thousands of former prisoners released by the Afghan government last year, The Wall Street Journal cites
Afghan and Western officials as saying.
The prisoner release was part of the US deal with the Taliban, signed on 29 February, to encourage negotiations between the group and the Afghan government, allowing for a cease-fire and eventual withdrawal of American and NATO troops from Afghanistan.
However, according to Afghan officials, a reluctant Kabul agreed to the prisoner release only under pressure from Washington. The deal was touted as Afghanistan’s best chance for progress in intra-Afghan negotiations.
Under the conditions of the deal, Kabul was to release 5,000 Taliban prisoners while the Islamist militant group was to reciprocate by setting free 1,000 captives, mostly government officials and Afghan forces. However, talks between the Taliban and Afghan government never gained momentum.
“The decision to release prisoners was a difficult decision for the Afghans to make. Prisoner releases are often a challenging but necessary step in ending armed conflict,” a State Department spokesperson was cited by the outlet as saying.
Prisoners signed promises not to engage in fighting with the government prior to being allowed to walk free. However, now they are back on the battlefield, said Fawad Aman, a spokesman for Afghanistan’s Ministry of Defence.
“These freed Taliban are playing a very critical role in Helmand. They are among the fiercest Taliban terrorists,” said Aman.
Taliban commander Mawlavi Talib is one of those captives allowed to walk free to further peace talks. However, the current developments have seen him play an active part in the sweeping offensive against Afghan government forces.
Originally a military commander and later Taliban’s so-called “shadow” deputy governor of Helmand province, Talib served for years under the Islamic militant group. Talib was arrested by Afghan government soldiers in 2020 after being recognised when attempting to pass through a checkpoint on a road in eastern Helmand, said Afghan officials. Sent to prison in Kabul, he was freed months later, they were cited as adding.
Returning to his previous position of authority, Talib is credited as having assembled fighters from across Helmand and adjacent provinces to besiege Lashkargah.
The US-backed Kabul government is struggling to fend off the Taliban onslaught
, which has resulted in half of the country’s remote districts being seized by last month. Now the fate of provincial capitals hangs in the balance.
In the face of the US troops’ pullout, Afghan officials have privately been cited as conceding that their own ground and air forces are stretched thin.
Tuesday witnessed fierce fighting in the southern city of Lashkargah, the provincial capital of Helmand province, according to Afghan government officials. The US airstrikes and a counterattack by American-trained Afghan units overnight attempted to fend off the onslaught of hundreds of Taliban fighters led by Talib.
The Islamic militants targeted Lashkargah’s prison as part of their attack, hoping to set free inmates that could be recruited.
In the western city of Herat, effectively under siege from Taliban militants, the government said its forces had launched a counterattack on Tuesday. According to Afghanistan’s Defence Ministry, its forces killed around 375 Taliban and wounded 193 in fighting across the country in the last 24 hours.
, attackers set off a car bomb near a guest house of Afghanistan’s acting defence minister Bismillah Khan on Tuesday night, according to witnesses.
Several armed people subsequently entered the building. Government forces fought the unidentified gunmen for over four hours. The minister was not injured in the attack. The home of lawmaker Azim Baghlani was similarly violated. The Taliban has claimed responsibility
for the incident, warning of more attacks against senior Afghan government officials.
Ministry spokesman Hamid Noori said dozens of civilians had been evacuated from the area.
The Taliban has seized wide swathes of rural areas in recent months, however claims by the militants that they were in control of up to 85 percent of Afghanistan’s territory and up to 90 percent of its frontier with other nations have been vehemently disputed by the Kabul government
as “baseless propaganda”.
*The Taliban is a terrorist organisation banned in Russia.