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Why Is Helmand Important for Taliban?

While negotiators from ‘republic’s side’ and the Taliban are in the Qatari capital for talks aimed at bringing peace to the country, the Taliban have launched attacks in several provinces over the past two weeks. A large Taliban attack last week on Lashkar Gah, the capital of Helmand province, sparked days of intense fighting, forcing the United States to launch airstrikes in support of Afghan government forces. Helmand is one of the largest provinces of Afghanistan, located in the southwest of the country bordering Pakistan. Here’s what we already know:
How did it start?
On October 11, the Taliban launched a fierce attack on Lashkar Gah from various directions. The group’s fighters attacked security checkpoints, while at the same time a number of areas – Babaji, Cha Anjir, Nad Ali and Nawa Barakzai – were attacked. Two days later, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in Afghanistan said the highway between Kandahar and Lashkar Gah was closed due to improvised explosive devices.
Taliban spokesperson Mohammad Naeem said the group’s fighters had recaptured areas previously under their control but taken by Afghan security forces a few months ago. The Taliban control most of Helmand province and have launched a number of attacks in recent years – but its fighters have been pushed back by Afghan security forces each time.
The Taliban are seeking to gain more concessions from the Afghan government in peace talks by intensifying their attacks on security checkpoints and security forces. With such attacks, the Taliban show that they have considerable military power and, in the face of the Afghan government’s weak stance, bring them closer to gaining political advantage. In addition, Helmand’s geopolitical position is very important to the Taliban for two reasons: one is that the Taliban want to create an a power base, where they can assert their dominance, and also threaten neighboring provinces and hold political relations.
Helmand’s strategic position is very important for the Taliban from a military point of view as well and can be addressed from different angles. If the Taliban occupy Helmand, it will put them in a better strategic and military position, given the province’s sensitive position and the point of contact with the western and central provinces. In addition, with the control of this province, the neighboring provinces of Helmand will be severely threatened by the group. Since Helmand has a variety of geographical landscapes such as: river, plain, mountains, forests, etc., it is a better place for military training. In addition, the Taliban are trying to take greater advantage of the military casualties through guerrilla warfare, and Helmand seems to be the most suitable place for such a tactic. Overall, the group is seeking to seize Helmand as a hub for directing and conducting military operations and planning its military objectives.
It goes without saying that Helmand has been the center of military activity of foreign and domestic terrorist groups since the days of jihad and resistance, and these groups have always been at war with the Afghan security forces in support of the Taliban – over their common interests.
How were civilians affected?
As the fighting intensified and the security situation around Lashkar Gah worsened, tens of thousands of people fled to the provincial capital. Government officials estimate that 35,000 people (about 5,000 families) have been displaced by the war. However, the OCHA office in Afghanistan said that the assessment teams of a number of organizations have not yet confirmed the figures so far.
Due to the clashes, health facilities have also been affected, with some hospitals in the province operating at a lower capacity and others being completely closed. OCHA said seven health centers in Nad Ali/Marjah, Nahr-e-Siraj, Lashkar Gah and Nowa were closed after threats from health workers. OCHA estimates that at least 200 people, including women, were killed and injured.
The Taliban and the United States blame each other. Why?
Following Taliban pressure on Lashkar Gah and the seizure of security checkpoints, the United States launched airstrikes against the group’s fighters in support of Afghan security forces. It was a new US military intervention since signing an agreement with the Taliban in February to withdraw its forces in exchange for security guarantees.
Shortly after the US airstrikes on Lashkar Gah, a US military spokesperson in Afghanistan tweeted that the recent Taliban attacks in Helmand were “inconsistent with the US-Taliban agreement” and undermined peace talks in Doha. He insisted that the airstrikes did not violate the February agreement – a position rejected by the Taliban.
The Taliban statement in response said, “The entire content of the agreement between the Islamic Emirate and the United States is unambiguous, but the other side has repeatedly violated its obligations and taken provocative actions.” The Taliban warned that all responsibilities and consequences of continuing these actions would fall entirely on Americans.
Taliban spokesperson Naeem said the United States had ‘bombed areas where there was no fighting. They are also bombing places where the war has already stopped.’ Later, the Taliban said they would suspend operations if the United States halted airstrikes in Helmand.
What to do?
The Helmand war has very complex and deep internal and external dimensions. Helmand is considered extremely important to the Taliban. The Afghan government must recognize this fact and must strive to respond to them as strongly as possible. Meanwhile, the ‘republic side’ must emphasize on a ceasefire through talks in Qatar, because without a ceasefire, it would be very difficult to contain the war, which will keep on influencing the civilians in the province and ultimately, throughout the country.
(Sahar News)

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