The US has stepped up airstrikes in southern Afghanistan amid growing apprehension over a Taliban offensive threatening Kandahar, the country’s second-largest city and spiritual capital of the Taliban movement, Wall Street Journal reported.

The fall of Kandahar would deal a heavy blow to the US-backed government in Kabul, which is trying to impart calm to its citizens as the Taliban has seized swaths of the countryside, but so far failed to take a major city, the report said.

The airstrikes, about a dozen in recent days, point to a continuing role for the US military in Afghanistan, despite confidence expressed by President Biden and the Pentagon that the Afghan armed forces are well-equipped and ready to fight the Taliban on their own.

The US forces are due to leave Afghanistan by the end of August.

Kandahar, population 6,00,000, was home to deceased Taliban leader Mullah Omar, and host to key military bases once maintained by the US. It is also a major economic prize. About a dozen strikes are aimed at slowing a Taliban surge, aiding a beleaguered Afghan military.

The Taliban have advanced dozens of miles towards Kandahar city in recent weeks, squeezing it from three directions, capturing swaths of territory in the Panjwai and Arghandab valleys, places where foreign troops fought for decades to keep the Taliban at bay.

–IANS

san/dpb

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