LONDON: The Taliban assault on Lashkar Gah is being led by a commander released by the Afghan government last year as part of a US deal to boost peace talks.
Mawlavi Talib was among 5,000 militants freed under pressure from Washington as it attempted to reach an agreement to end the 20-year war, the Wall Street Journal reported.
Lashkar Gah in Helmand Province is one of several Afghan cities under a fierce onslaught from the Taliban as the insurgents seek further gains after sweeping through the country’s rural areas in recent months.
The report of Talib’s release is particularly embarrassing for US President Joe Biden, who faced fierce criticism for his decision to pull American troops out of the country.
Many of the freed insurgents are now taking part in offensives that have brought huge pressure on the Afghan government.
A Taliban commander told The Times newspaper that Talib is “leading the fight and the Taliban are close to gaining control of Lashkar Gah.”
“Talib is an aggressive fighter, advancing well in the province,” he said.
Talib previously commanded militants in Helmand before working as the Taliban’s “shadow” deputy governor for the province.
He was arrested last year by Afghan troops but was freed within months after the Afghan government reluctantly agreed to release the insurgents.
British and American troops spent years in fierce battles with the Taliban as the militants attempted to capture Helmand.
Much of Lashkar Gah was seized by the Taliban in recent weeks but US and Afghan airstrikes overnight on Tuesday into Wednesday attempted to dislodge the fighters.
The UN said on Wednesday it was “deeply concerned” about tens of thousands of people in the city who could be trapped by the fighting.