FARAH, Afghanistan -- Several rural districts in the southern Afghan provinces of Helmand and Farah have turned into battlegrounds between the Taliban and Afghan security forces.
The Taliban, apparently determined to capture more territory during their traditional summer fighting season, are pressing the Afghan forces hard in remote districts where the presence of Afghan National Army and police force is thin.
Farid Bakhtawar, head of Farah’s provincial council, said the province is threatened with a Taliban takeover in the wake of a weeklong battle in Pusht Rod and Bala Buluk districts.
“We are being surrounded [by the Taliban] from all sides, and we are worried that Farah will fall into Taliban hands just like [the northern city of] Kunduz last year,” he said. “Unfortunately, the central government is not paying enough attention.”
Provincial Governor Muhammad Asif Nang said more than 1,000 fighters are involved in the ongoing Taliban offensive in Farah, which borders Iran. He said that so far seven Afghan soldiers and 44 insurgents have been killed in the fighting.
“We are facing unprecedented threats in Pusht Rod and Bala Baluk,” Nang said.
In neighboring Helmand, officials claim to have reversed some Taliban advances after sending in reinforcements.
Abdul Jabbar Qahraman, President Ashraf Ghani's special envoy for security affairs in the southern province, admitted the Taliban have recently made significant advances in Nad-e Ali and Garmser.
“Sufficient reinforcements have reached Nad-e Ali, Garmser, and the Chah-e Anjir front line in Nad-e Ali,” he said. “Leave alone Helmand, I even reject claims that any of our districts have fallen into the enemy hands.”
The two districts surround provincial capital Lashkar Gah, and their fall would raise the specter of Helmand falling into Taliban hands.
In recent days, the Taliban made their own claims of rapid advances in Helmand. On July 31, the Taliban claimed to have overrun large swathes of Nad-e Ali after an intense battle.
Earlier the same day, an insurgent statement claimed that they had overrun Khanashin district, which borders Garmser in the south part of Helmand close to the Pakistan border.
While provincial lawmakers confirmed its fall, the governor's office reported ongoing fighting between government troops and the Taliban.
At the outset of this year’s fighting season, the Taliban controlled or contested 11 of Helmand’s 15 districts. Since then, they seem to have added more territories to the regions they control in the poppy-growing region.
The Taliban’s advances came despite a reorganization of Afghan forces and the return of some U.S. military trainers to one of Afghanistan’s most volatile front lines.