Lashkargah residents flee the city as Taliban closes in

Heavy clashes have been reported in Helmand’s capital Lashkargah with hundreds of people fleeing the city after reports emerged that the Taliban had taken control of at least one Police District – PD4.

Civil society activists confirmed the clashes and said several checkpoints in Lashkargah, the capital of Helmand, had fallen to the Taliban.

They said PD4 in Lashkargah, Sayeed Abad area in Nad Ali district, and Nahr-e-Saraj area in Grishk district had all collapsed to the insurgent group on Sunday afternoon.

The insurgent group carried out a number of coordinated attacks on various parts of the province Saturday night and through Sunday.

According to Omar Zwak, spokesman for Helmand’s governor, the Afghan security forces have retreated from a number of checkpoints in Lashkargah in order to prevent civilian casualties.

He said it had been “a tactical retreat”.

Helmand Governor Mohammad Yasin Khan meanwhile confirmed the clashes but said the Afghan security forces have launched counter-attacks – air and ground operations – against the militants.

He said at least 200 Taliban have been killed in the last 10 days across the province.

Khan said some of the Taliban militants who were recently released from Afghan prisons under the US-Taliban deal have returned to the battlefield and were involved in the current clashes.

Meanwhile, photographs posted on social media show trucks loaded with household goods heading away from the city as residents flee their homes.

Sources also said the Taliban have captured 37 policemen and engineers from an electricity substation in Dorahi in Lashkargah.

As terrified residents took to social media, #SaveHelmand started trending on Sunday night. Cries for help from government went out in their hundreds and as one resident said on Twitter: “The only word on the streets of Lashkargah is that Taliban are coming. There is a severe chaos & confusion among the local residents of the city. #SaveHelmand.”