What’s Happening in Afghanistan Today?

The past week in Afghanistan has seen a number of violent terror attacks against civilians, in addition to strong Taliban offensives against the Afghan military.

On Tuesday, an attack at a religious shrine in the nation’s capital of Kabul killed 18 people and wounded dozens more. It is alleged to have been targeted at Shia Muslims. Witnesses claim that the attackers fired indiscriminately into crowds gathered for the Ashura religious festival killing men, women and children. The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, also known as ISIL, claimed responsibility.

Ashura is an important date on the Muslim calendar, and often involves processions and large gatherings. The government had however warned of possible attacks, which led to a quieter observance this year. Even still, one day after the attacks on Tuesday, a bomb blast outside a mosque in northern Balkh province killed 14 Afghan citizens and wounded 36 more; an attack a spokesperson for the governor of Balkh province claimed was also targeted at Shia Muslims following ceremonies connected with Ashura. He also stated that the death toll is likely to rise due to the high number of wounded in critical condition.

In the south of the country, the capital of Helmand province, Lashkar Gah, has experienced significant violence. Aljazeera reported that on Monday a suicide car bombing in the Muktar area of the city killed 4 civilians and 10 police officers. 15 other civilians were wounded. This was part of a planned large scale offensive against the city by the Taliban, a plan they announced shortly before the attack.

This past Monday however, government forces reported significant progress in repelling this offensive. With the help of United States airstrikes and the deployment of more than 300 NATO backed Afghan commandos, they claim to have driven back the Taliban from areas around the city. According to one Afghan army commander’s estimates, hundreds of Taliban insurgents had been killed in the 24 hours before the report.

However, this success has not been mirrored elsewhere. On Tuesday, following heavy fighting, Taliban fighters managed to capture the district of Ghormach in Fayab province. Afghan soldiers allegedly withdrew in order to prevent fighting in residential areas and possible civilian casualties. Heavy fighting is expected soon, as the army will not be willing to relinquish the district which holds a key strategic position on the border with Turkmenistan. Tuesday also saw over 100 Afghan policemen surrender to the Taliban in the district of Tarinkot in Uruzgan province. Government officials have stated the policemen went to the Taliban with their equipment after having been surrounded for at least a month with little government support.

The Afghan defence ministry released that as of last Wednesday, at least 96 Afghan soldiers had been killed in clashes with the Taliban in the past week. Fighting in the country is not showing signs of ceasing, and both civilians and the army are suffering as casualties continue to rise.

Fraser Lawrance