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Taliban seize large portions of the provincial capitals in south Afghanistan

Lashkar Gah's fall would mark a significant turning point in the Taliban offensive that has been waged over the last months as U.S. forces and NATO forces pull out from war-torn Afghanistan. This would be the Taliban's first capture of a provincial capital in many years.

The Associated Press spoke to residents of the city over the phone. They said that the fighting has left them trapped and unable go outside for basic supplies. Residents claimed that Taliban fighters were seen in the streets and that every Lashkar Gah area was under Taliban control.

As the government held onto key government buildings, including the headquarters of the local army and police, elite commando units were sent from Kabul to assist Afghan forces.

Majid Akhund (Deputy Chairman of the Helmand Provincial Council) confirmed that the Taliban controlled nine Lashkar Gah district and also the TV and radio stations in the city. Both had been taken off the air.

In an audio message, the Afghan forces commander for Helmand Gen. Sami Sadat urged residents living in Taliban-held areas to leave immediately. However, he didn't explain how they could do this amid ongoing fighting. This message indicated that more airstrikes were being planned.

Sadat stated, "Please evacuate your family from your homes and surrounding areas." "We will not allow the Taliban to die. ... It's difficult, but we do it for you. We are sorry if you become temporarily displaced. Please evacuate as soon as possible.

As the Taliban intensified their assault on government forces, Lashkar Gah was one of three provincial capitals that were under siege. The Taliban have swept through many districts in the country over the past months, many of them in remote, rural and sparsely populated regions.

In those battles, Afghan troops often surrendered to the Taliban or were pushed out without much resistance. They also frequently did not have resupply and reinforcements. The Taliban also captured many lucrative border crossings with Iran and Pakistan in the last few weeks.

On Tuesday, thousands of Afghans gathered in Kabul waving the Afghan flag and shouting "God Is Great" to support the National Security and Defense Forces of Afghanistan. Even after a loud explosion rattled the city, they came out. They were not immediately held responsible.

After Afghan soldiers drove the Taliban from the city's entrance, a similar procession was held in Herat's western city.

As the U.S. withdrawal of NATO and U.S. forces has reached more than 95%, the Taliban have recently taken control of provincial capitals. By Aug. 31, the last U.S. soldier and NATO soldier will be gone from Afghanistan.

Two other provincial capitals are under siege in neighboring Kandahar province, also in south, and in western Herat.

Ashraf Ghani, Afghan President, blamed Monday's hasty withdrawal by NATO and U.S. troops for the worsening security situation. Analysts say that deep corruption and poor training have left Afghan forces overwhelmed and the elite commando units the only buffer against the advancing Taliban.

The American and NATO withdrawal has seriously affected Afghanistan's air force, including the contractors who maintained the fighter aircraft fleet. Washington's watchdog for U.S. taxpayer dollars in Afghanistan stated that Afghan aircraft fly 25% longer than before they were maintained.

On Tuesday, Afghan forces in Herat, capital of the same province, appeared to be able push back the Taliban. Insurgents were also present at the city's edge. The civilian airport in Herat was also reopened.

The United Nations has repeatedly condemned the increase in civilian casualties caused by the increasing violence in conflict. In a Twitter message Tuesday, the U.N. mission called for an immediate halt to fighting in densely populated urban areas. The U.N. has reported that 10 civilians were killed in Lashkar Gah over the past three days and that 85 others have been injured. At least five civilians were killed in southern Kandahar and 42 were injured.

Many more people have been forced from their homes by airstrikes in the city, according to U.N. Lashkar Gah residents.

Mohammad Khan, a Lashkar Gah resident, said that his 13-year-old son leapt and shouted when he heard the bomb go off. He had evacuated half his family from the city, and was trying to get the rest out before the fighting took him down.

Nizamuddin, another Lashkar Gah resident who, like many Afghans, uses only one name, stated that he was hiding in his family's home with his family and was too scared to leave.

The U.S. and other leaders around the world have warned Taliban not to invade Afghanistan militarily. They also warned them that they could become an international pariah if they attempted to take power by force.

The Taliban were last rulers of Afghanistan when they were recognized only by three countries: Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates.

The U.S. Embassy, Kabul also tweeted Tuesday: "The Taliban’s disregard for each Afghan citizen's dignity and for human lives more generally has shocked the whole world. This is not the way legitimate powers or governments act.

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