Taliban fighters have captured Afghanistan's second-biggest dam and two Afghan Army bases, militants and officials said, as fighting escalates amid the ongoing pullout of U.S. and international forces from the war-wracked country.
Dahla Dam, also known as Arghandab Dam, is located in the Shah Wali Kot district of the southern province of Kandahar, some 40 kilometers north of the provincial capital, Kandahar City.
The dam, which provides irrigation to farmers via a network of canals as well as drinking water for Kandahar City, is now under Taliban control after months of fierce fighting in the militants' former stronghold of Kandahar.
"We have seized the Dahla Dam in Arghandab," Taliban spokesman Qari Yousuf Ahmadi told the media.
Haji Gulbuddin, governor of an adjacent district, confirmed the dam "is now in the control of the Taliban."
"Our security forces ... asked for reinforcements but they failed to get it," he said.
Dahla dam was built by American engineers almost 70 years ago to provide irrigation for about seven districts of Kandahar.
The militants last month blew up a bridge that connected the dam to adjacent districts.
The capture of the dam comes after heavy fighting erupted in the neighboring province of Helmand this week just days after the U.S. military formally began withdrawing its remaining troops from Afghanistan.
Up to 3,500 U.S. troops and some 7,000 NATO soldiers are to leave Afghanistan by September 11, ending two decades of foreign military presence.
The pullout will be a test for Afghan security forces, with U.S. generals and other officials expressing concerns in recent weeks that it might lead to the collapse of the Afghan government.
General Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said on May 6 that the U.S. military may continue to train Afghan security forces, but do it in other countries after American forces leave Afghanistan
The United States has not settled on a plan yet to continue supporting the Afghan Air Force, which is heavily dependent on the U.S. for maintenance, training, and repairs, Milley also said.
He added that some U.S. aid may have to be implemented from outside the country.
Speaking at the same press conference, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin acknowledged that continuing without American support on the ground “will be a challenge” for the Afghans as they try to hold off Taliban attacks.
Earlier this week in Helmand, thousands of people fled their homes in the face of a large-scale Taliban offensive against the Afghan Army.
U.S. fighter jets have been providing air support for the Afghan forces despite the drawdown of foreign troops.
Meanwhile, local officials and the Taliban said two government bases fell to the militants in the northern province of Baghlan.
The militants launched the attacks on the bases in the Baghlan-e-Markzai and Nahrin districts of the province late on May 5, the officials told TOLOnews.
“Four Taliban were killed, and six others were wounded,” unnamed Baghlan police officials said, adding that the government forces had been pushed back.
In a separate development, a former journalist was killed in Kandahar City on May 6, TOLOnews reported, quoting his relatives.
Nemat Rawan, a former TOLOnews journalist who had joined the media division of the Finance Ministry, was shot dead by two unidentified gunmen, his relatives confirmed.
Ghorzang Afridi, a security official at Kandahar police, confirmed the information.
“The attackers have also stolen his phone,” he said.
The number of targeted attacks against media workers has been on the rise in Afghanistan since the start of the year.