Afghan army warns people to flee homes in besieged city

The Afghan army was planning a major counter-attack Wednesday to drive the Taliban out of a key southern city, warning residents they must immediately flee their homes.

Dozens of civilians have already died in the battle for Lashkar Gah, a city of 200,000 people that would be the Taliban’s biggest urban prize since the insurgents launched a nationwide offensive in May.

They are now targeting the urban centres, with fierce fighting since last week in the cities of Herat near the western border with Iran, and Kandahar in the south, as well as Lashkar Gah.

Authorities said the attackers had been repelled, and that Mohammadi was safe.

– ‘Forgive us’ –

With the Taliban having taken control of some radio and TV stations in the city, and moved into people’s homes, the Afghan army on Tuesday flagged a major counter-offensive.

“I know it is very difficult for you to leave your houses — it is hard for us too — but if you are displaced for a few days, please forgive us.

Sefatullah, director of Sukon radio in Lashkar Gah described the fighting on Tuesday as intense.

One resident provided a harrowing account to AFP on Tuesday for people unable to leave Lashkar Gah. 

The United Nation reported Tuesday that at least 40 civilians had been killed in Lashkar Gah in the previous 24 hours.

In Kabul, the first bomb blew up in the centre of the city late on Tuesday, sending a thick plume of smoke into the sky, AFP correspondents reported.

Less than two hours after the car bomb detonated, another loud blast followed by smaller explosions and rapid gunfire again shook Kabul, also near the high-security Green Zone that houses several embassies, including the US mission.

“Several lawmakers were meeting at the house of this MP to make a plan to counter the Taliban offensive in the north,” the source told AFP.

“We’re not in a position to attribute it officially just yet but of course it does bear all the hallmarks of the spate of Taliban attacks that we have seen in recent weeks,” State Department spokesman Ned Price told reporters.

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