US airstrikes target Taliban in Helmand province

The United States has carried out a number of airstrikes against the Taliban in the southern Helmand province in the past few days as fierce fighting takes place between Afghan military forces and the Taliban.

A US official told VOA late Wednesday that American forces were actively carrying out airstrikes against the Taliban.

This comes after US Forces Afghanistan and NATO officially started their withdrawal process from the country on Saturday.

The airstrikes also come in the wake of repeated pledges by the US to carry on supporting Afghanistan.

The US official who spoke to VOA, on condition of anonymity, declined to share additional details, citing the need for operational security.

Pentagon press secretary John Kirby meanwhile said during a briefing that as US forces transition out of Afghanistan they will continue to try to support local forces.

He said that “there’s still quite a bit of robust capability” at the disposal of US commanders on the ground.

“To the degree we can, as we transition out, we’re going to continue to try to support Afghan national security forces in the field,” Kirby said.

The US airstrikes come amid intense fighting around the Helmand capital, Lashkargah, that started over the weekend.

On Tuesday, reports indicated over 1,000 families had fled their homes on the outskirts of the city due to heavy fighting.

MSF Afghanistan (Doctors Without Borders) said in a series of tweets on Tuesday that fighting around Lashkargah city increased significantly on Monday.

“Our medical teams treated 53 war-wounded patients on 3 & 4 May,” Sarah Leahy, MSF project coordinator at Boost Provincial Hospital said.

According to her, MSF teams in emergency room and operating theatres have treated people for injuries caused by bullets and shrapnel.

“Patients and staff tell us that access routes to the city are blocked; we’ve seen fewer admissions of children and pregnant women,” she said.

A nurse described helping his family flee from the frontlines: “There was a lot of shooting, bullets coming into our home. People were afraid, running without shoes, without hijabs, without anything.”

One local government official told AFP on Wednesday that US airstrikes were key to stopping the Taliban advance.

“The bombing was intense,” the official, Atiqullah, said. “I have never seen such bombardment in several years.”

Afghan government forces also faced fierce opposition in other areas in the country – including in Ghazni and Baghlan provinces.

But Kirby told journalists during his Wednesday briefing that the “Afghan security forces are more capable than they have been in recent years.”

He said: “They have been in the lead for quite some time.”

Afghan military officials have been equally insistent that they are up to the task.

Ministry of Defense deputy spokesman Fawad Aman told VOA’s Afghan Service on Wednesday: “Currently, ANSDF [Afghan National Security and Defense Forces] 100% independently plan, command and control, and conduct the military operations.”

“There is no support and physical presence of foreign troops in the battlefields,” Aman said.