'Indiscriminate' Afghan fighting hurting civilians the most, says UN

The hardline Islamist group has seized control of much of rural Afghanistan, taking its toll on civilians.
The hardline Islamist group has seized control of much of rural Afghanistan, taking its toll on civilians.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan (AFP) - Afghan forces battled the Taleban for control of a key provincial capital Tuesday (Aug 3), as the United Nations warned "indiscriminate" gunfire and air strikes were hurting civilians the most.

Officials said insurgents had seized more than a dozen local radio and TV stations in Lashkar Gah - capital of Helmand province and the scene of days of fierce fighting - leaving only one pro-Taleban channel broadcasting Islamic programming.

In Herat, another city under siege, hundreds of residents chanted "Allahu akbar" (God is greatest) from their rooftops after government forces repulsed the latest Taleban assault.

The hardline Islamist group has seized control of much of rural Afghanistan since foreign forces began the last stage of their withdrawal in early May, but are meeting resistance as they try to take provincial capitals.

That urban fighting, however, is taking its toll on civilians.

"Taleban ground offensive & ANA air strikes causing most harm," the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) tweeted Tuesday, referring to the Afghan national army.

"Deep concerns about indiscriminate shooting & damage to/occupation of health facilities & civilian homes." "Fighting was intense this morning," said Sefatullah, director of Sukon radio in Helmand's capital, whose station was captured by the Taleban.

"We stopped broadcasting two days ago because the Taleban captured the building of our station." Afghan officials said Tuesday that 11 radio and four television stations in the city had been seized by the Taleban.

"Terrorists do not want the media to publish the facts and expose their injustices," the Ministry of Information and Culture said.

The loss of Lashkar Gah would be a massive strategic and psychological blow for the government, which has pledged to defend cities at all costs after losing much of the rural countryside to the Taleban over the summer.

In Herat, Afghan officials said government forces had managed to push back the insurgents from several areas of the city - including near the airport, which is vital for resupplies.

"Afghan security forces plus resistance forces launched a big operation in west of the city," Jailani Farhad, spokesman for Herat's governor, told AFP.