Residents were urged on Tuesday to evacuate the besieged Afghan city as the army prepared for a major offensive against the Taliban after three days of fierce fighting.
Meanwhile, a powerful explosion rocked the capital, Kabul, on Tuesday evening, sending smoke billowing into the sky. AFP Correspondents said the blast was followed by gunfire.
The blast occurred near the residence of Defense Minister Bismillah Mohammadi in central Kabul, a security official said. No other details were immediately available.
“The minister was with me at a prayer service. He is fine,” Younis Qanuni, a close aide to the defense minister, told reporters.
The Taliban have taken over much of rural Afghanistan since the last phase of the withdrawal began in May, but are now focused on capturing provincial capitals, where they face stiff resistance.
Fighting continues for Lashkar Gah, the capital of southern Helmand province, with at least 40 civilians killed in the past 24 hours, according to the United Nations.
215 Maiwand Afghan Army Corps Commander General Sami Sadat told residents to get out as soon as possible.
“Please leave as soon as possible so that we can begin our operation,” he said in a message to the 200,000 cities provided by the media.
“I know it’s hard for you to get out of your house – it’s hard for us too – but if you’re homeless for a few days, please forgive us.
“We are fighting the Taliban where they are. We will fight them … we will not leave a single Taliban alive,” he said.
Earlier, the group seized more than a dozen local radio and TV stations in Lashkar Gah, with only one pro-Taliban channel broadcasting Islamic programming, officials said.
The United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) tweeted, “Deep concern for Afghan citizens …
The United Nations has called for an immediate end to fighting in urban areas.
The Taliban are everywhere
Sifatullah, director of Sukun Radio in the city, said the fighting was fierce this morning.
He said US and Afghan air force planes had attacked Taliban strongholds, and that fighting was ongoing near the city’s jail and a compound near police and intelligence headquarters.
In recent days, the US military has stepped up air strikes across the country to prevent the Taliban from advancing.
“The Taliban are everywhere in the city, you can see them on motorcycles on the streets,” said a Lashkar Gah resident. AFP, On condition of anonymity.
“The Taliban are in people’s homes and the government is bombing them. About 20 houses in my neighborhood have been bombed, they are fighting in the streets,” he said.
The loss of Lashkar Gah would be a major strategic and psychological blow to the government, which has vowed to defend cities at all costs after losing much of the countryside to the Taliban over the summer.
In the besieged western city of Herat, hundreds of residents chanted “Allahu Akbar” (God is the greatest) from their rooftops Monday night as government forces countered the latest Taliban attack.
Officials say government forces have been able to push back the Taliban from many parts of Herat – including near the airport, which is in dire need of supplies.
But four rockets hit the airport on Tuesday afternoon. Airport chief Shaheer Salehi said the facility was not damaged. AFP, But two flights were canceled.