Fighting between Afghan security forces and the Taliban continued to escalate over the weekend, and reportedly, a Taliban offensive is in the works. In a Tuesday tweet, the Afghan Ministry of Defense said that positions across seven provinces had been targeted. According to Reuters, some of the heaviest fighting was concentrated in Helmand province. US forces turned over the Camp Antonik base in Helmand to the Afghan National Army on Sunday.
“There was a thunderstorm of heavy weapons and blasts in the city and the sound of small arms was like someone was making popcorn,” Mulah Jan, a resident of a suburb of the Helmand provincial capital Lashkar Gah, told Reuters.
181 #Taliban terrorists were killed and 87 others were wounded in Laghman, Ghazni, Kandahar, Zabul, Herat, Helmand and Baghlan provinces during 24 past hours in ANDSF operation. Also, 94 #IEDs which were placed by Taliban on public roads were discovered and defused by #ANA.
— Ministry of Defense, Afghanistan (@MoDAfghanistan) May 4, 2021
The Afghan Ministry of Defense claims to have killed 181 terrorists and wounded another 87 in fighting across Laghman, Ghazni, Kandahar, Zabul, Herat, Helmand, and Baghlan provinces as of Tuesday.
While there has been intense fighting between Afghan security forces and the Taliban, there are no reports of US casualties at this time. However, Voice of America reported that US aircraft have been carrying out airstrikes in Helmand province in support of the Afghan government.
Speaking with Agence France-Presse, a local government official credited the US airstrikes with halting, at least temporarily, the Taliban advance in Helmand.
“The bombing was intense,” the official, Atiqullah, told AFP, according to VOA. “I have never seen such bombardment in several years.”
According to VOA, the Afghan military claimed Tuesday to have killed more than 100 Taliban fighters and 22 al Qaeda militants in Helmand. A Taliban spokesman denied the claims of foreign fighters in Taliban ranks.
In the northern province of Baghlan, the Taliban seized two bases from Afghan security forces, ToloNews reported. Afghan security forces have yet to give concrete casualty information regarding the engagements but have confirmed they are on the retreat.
Jawid Basharat, a spokesman for the Baghlan provincial police, confirmed to ToloNews that at least one district in the province is now in Taliban hands. “Security forces have made a tactical retreat and are preparing for operations in the district,” Basharat said.
The Taliban claims to have captured the entire province.
While Afghan security forces remain engaged in intense fighting in multiple locations throughout the country, US Central Command said the US withdrawal process from Afghanistan was still on track. According to its weekly press release, as of Tuesday, 60 C-17 loads of material have been airlifted out of the country.
Overall, 1,300 pieces of equipment have been removed from Afghanistan and handed over to the Defense Logistics Agency for destruction. CENTCOM reports that somewhere between 2% and 6% of the retrograde process is now complete.
— U.S. Central Command (@CENTCOM) May 4, 2021
While President Joe Biden initially announced in April that all US forces would leave Afghanistan by Sept. 11, 2021, ToloNews reported that this could be completed as early as July. The potentially updated timeline comes as Newsweek reports that NATO is targeting a July 4 withdrawal date for its contingent of forces.
“The Resolute Support headquarters in Kabul are currently considering whether to shorten the withdrawal period,” German Defense Ministry spokesman David Helmbold told Newsweek. “The 4th of July is now being considered as a pullout date. The ministry informed the (German parliament’s) defense committee about this today.”
This news comes as ToloNews reports that US Special Representative for Afghan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad arrived in Kabul on Monday to discuss a possible peace conference in Turkey between the US, the Afghan government, and the Taliban. The Taliban has agreed to the potential meeting “in principle,” and according to ToloNews, Khalilzad has relayed this agreement to the Afghan government.
According to ToloNews, the Taliban will attend the conference in Turkey and will reduce the current wave of violence across Afghanistan if they can reach a preliminary agreement on a US withdrawal in July.
“The US has set a deadline for itself and it is possible that the Taliban will not agree to it and then a deadline in the middle will be agreed upon,” former Taliban commander Sayed Akbar Agha told ToloNews.
On Saturday, Taliban spokesman Zabihullah released a tweet stating that a US presence in the country past May 1 was a “violation in principle” of the deadline set forth in the Doha Agreement. The continued presence by US troops in the country past May 1 “opened the way for [Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan] Mujahidin to take every counteraction it deems appropriate against the occupying forces,” Zabihullah said.