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Afghanistan: Helmand’s capital ‘could fall to the Taliban in days’

THE Afghan Taliban have surrounded the southern city of Lashkar Gah and may capture it within days, a provincial leader said yesterday.

Helmand Provincial Council Director Kareem Atal said that “new forces are arriving” to defend the city from the guerillas, who have closed all roads into Lashkar Gah and now control 80 per cent of the province.

Interior Ministry spokesman Sediq Sediqqi said the deputy interior minister and the deputy chief of the military staff had been sent to Lashkar Gah, the provincial capital along with elite troops.

Defence Ministry spokesman Dawlat Waziri said 60 per cent of the guerillas were well-trained foreign recruits — a description usually used for Pakistanis.

But US military spokesman in Afghanistan Brigadier General Charlie Cleveland claimed the city was not under threat. “The view we still have is that, overall, Lashkar Gah is not about to fall.”

Tens of thousands of people have fled their homes to escape the fighting and are taking refuge in the city.

On Tuesday, Omar Zawak, the spokesman for Helmand provincial governor Mirza Khan Rahimi, said: “Around 30,000 people have been displaced in Helmand in the past several weeks. Most of them are coming to Lashkar Gah.”

International medical charity Doctors Without Borders (MSF), whose hospital near northern Kunduz was attacked by US helicopter gunships last year after the Taliban seized that city, has reduced its international staff in Lashkar Gah and is maintaining only basic emergency and surgical services.

MSF Afghanistan representative Guilhem Molinie said: “We are concerned about urban fighting. It is getting closer to the urban centre.”

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