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Afghan general issues warning as Taliban take parts of Lashkar Gah

The general charged with defending one of Afghanistan’s major cities against the Taliban has warned of ‘devastating’ consequences if the Islamists claim victory. 

General Sami Sadat, whose troops are manning barricades in the city of Lashkar Gah, said a win for the Taliban will inspire terror groups across the globe and could spark a renewed wave of attacks in Europe and America.

He spoke out amid five days of continual fighting that has seen Taliban fighters seize districts in the city centre, raising fears it could be the first provincial capital to fall.  

‘This is not a war of Afghanistan, this is a war between liberty and totalitarianism,’ the commander warned.

The general charged with defending Lashkar Gah against a Taliban assault (pictured) has warned of devastating consequences for global security if the Islamists claim victory

Lashkar Gah, the capital of Helmand province, has been under attack for five days with Taliban fighters capturing parts of the city centre (pictured)

Lashkar Gah, the capital of Helmand province, has been under attack for five days with Taliban fighters capturing parts of the city centre (pictured)

The Taliban have been on the march in Afghanistan for months, capturing swathes of countryside from government forces as the US and NATO withdrew.

In some places the fighting has been fierce, with Taliban fighters scoring major battlefield victories. In others, government forces have fled or surrendered. 

President Ashraf Ghani and his allies have attempted to portray the retreat as tactical – saying the government is massing forces in cities which are easier to defend and vital for overall control of the country.

But that is now being put to the test, with a major Taliban assault on those regional capitals which had long been expected beginning at the weekend.

Lashkar Gah, the capital of Helmand province which is the Taliban’s historic stronghold, has been the hardest-hit – with fighting there now in its fifth day.

Explosions were seen near police headquarters, the provincial governor’s compound and the city’s main prison on Monday, according to TOLO News.

Also hit were the cities of Kandahar – also in Helmand – and Herat, in the north west.

Despite major gains by the Taliban in Lashkar Gah, General Sadat told the BBC that he is confident the Islamists will not take the city, believing they cannot sustain the ferocity of their current attack.

But he was sufficiently worried to issue a warning to world leaders about what could happen, if the city falls into their hands.

‘This will increase the hope for small extremist groups to mobilise in the cities of Europe and America, and will have a devastating effect on global security,’ he said.

Addressing parliament in Kabul on Monday, President Ghani blamed a hasty retreat by American and NATO forces while peace talks were still underway between his government and the Taliban for destabilizing the country.

President Ashraf Ghani has warned that America and NATO's rapid withdrawal from Afghanistan has destabilised the country and led to the Taliban's resurgence

President Ashraf Ghani has warned that America and NATO’s rapid withdrawal from Afghanistan has destabilised the country and led to the Taliban’s resurgence

He then urged ministers to back to a ‘national mobilisation’ drive to bolster the armed forces and drive the Taliban back, predicting a ‘sea change’ in the conflict in the next six months, though did not elaborate further.

Ghani has been forced to turn to regional warlords for support in the fighting, which analysts have warned could drag the country back into a civil war of the kind seen in the 1990s – from which the Taliban first emerged.

He also insisted that his Afghan forces are up to the task and have the ‘capacity’ to defeat the insurgents. 

But in past weeks, the army has struggled against the Taliban onslaught and have often been left without reinforcements and resupplies.

Hours after the president’s remarks, Taliban fighters seized control of Helmand province’s government radio and TV building in Lashkar Gah. 

Resident Haji Sadullah said they broadcast religious songs and invited people to follow their path for close to an hour on both AM and FM frequencies, 

The building is located 400 yards to the north of the provincial governor’s office. 

‘Taliban were announcing that Radio Sharia started broadcasting after almost 20 years,’ Sadullah said.

On Sunday, the Afghan armed forces spokesman, Gen. Ajmal Omar Shinwari, told reporters that three provinces in southern and western Afghanistan face critical security situations. 

Taliban fighters have also attacked Herat (pictured), in the north west of the country, and Kandahar in the south

Taliban fighters have also attacked Herat (pictured), in the north west of the country, and Kandahar in the south

Southern Kandahar – the birthplace of the Taliban – as well as Helmand and Herat provinces have witnessed several attacks.

Helmand provincial council chief Attaullah Afghan said the Taliban now have control of Lashkar Gah’s seventh district. 

On Monday, elite Afghan commando units were dispatched to help defend the city.

‘There has been relentless gunfire, air strikes and mortars in densely populated areas. Houses are being bombed, and many people are suffering severe injuries,’ said Sarah Leahy, Helmand coordinator for Doctors Without Borders.

The group, also known as Medecins Sans Frontieres or MSF, said in a statement Monday that life in Lashkar Gah was at a standstill as residents hunker down inside their homes, afraid to venture out.

‘Some of our colleagues are staying overnight in the hospital as it’s safer, but also so they can keep on treating patients,’ the organization said. ‘The situation has been dire for months but now it is even worse.’

Faizullah, who like many other Afghans goes by one name, told The Associated Press over the phone that he fled Lashkar Gah with his family and was now following the Helmand River to safety. 

Clashes between the Taliban and Afghan forces have intensified, he said, and ‘Afghan security forces are out of supplies and food in the city.’

Back in Kabul, Ghani claimed his government has the financial and political support of the United States and the international community to turn the tide even as he urged the insurgents to rejoin peace talks.

‘We either sit knee to knee at the real negotiating table or break their (Taliban) knees on the battleground’ Ghani said.