It was solely after a sequence of punishing U.S. airstrikes that Afghan floor forces had been capable of retake the territory, Afghan officers stated. U.S. air assist performed a equally essential position in October in pushing again the militant group in Helmand province, the place the Taliban got here inside yards of breaching the provincial capital’s limits.

The battles come as U.S. forces have begun to shut Kandahar Air Area, in accordance with two Afghan officers, as a part of an accelerated drawdown of U.S. forces within the nation. After the current weeks of intense combating, many right here worry the decreased troop numbers and base closures might imply much less U.S. assist for future battles towards an emboldened Taliban.

The U.S. airstrikes had been “the one motive the Taliban was pushed again,” stated Lt. Col. Niaz Mahmad Majahad, the nationwide police commander in Arghandab whose forces fought the Taliban till the army arrived. “If it weren’t for the airstrikes, the Taliban wouldn’t have fallen.”

Over the following two months, the variety of U.S. forces in Afghanistan shall be minimize in half, from round 5,000 to 2,500, appearing protection secretary Christopher C. Miller introduced from the Pentagon on Tuesday. That stage will mark the bottom variety of U.S. troops on the bottom within the battle since 2002. 

It was a transfer Miller’s predecessor warned towards in a categorised memo days earlier than he was fired. Former protection secretary Mark T. Esper cited ongoing violence in Afghanistan and apprehension about undercutting negotiations between the Afghan authorities and the Taliban amongst his considerations a few extra speedy withdrawal.

A U.S. protection official, talking on the situation of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the problem, stated a small variety of U.S. service members are at Kandahar Air Area because the drawdown continues. A lot of them are getting ready gear to be despatched overseas because the Jan. 15 drawdown deadline looms, he stated.

The U.S. army command in Afghanistan, generally known as Resolute Assist, didn’t touch upon airstrikes towards the Taliban in Helmand and Kandahar or on the standing of Kandahar Air Area.

Kandahar Air Area, which Afghan officers say supplied assist for the airstrikes final week, was as soon as the most important NATO base in Afghanistan, residence to what U.S. troops referred to as the “boardwalk,” a set of shops, eating places and U.S. fast-food chains resembling KFC and TGI Fridays.

Gul Ahmad Kamin, 34, a member of parliament from Kandahar, stated U.S. forces have been slowly closing the airfield for months and had been only one week away from shuttering the bottom when Taliban fighters attacked close by Lashkar Gah, Helmand’s provincial capital. A senior Afghan official who spoke on the situation of anonymity to debate the matter confirmed that U.S. forces have closed elements of the bottom.

An Afghan worker of a personal safety firm situated close to U.S. compounds on the bottom stated he observed motion to shut the bottom a few month and a half in the past, when a number of massive delivery containers had been handed over to the Afghan army, surveillance balloons had been reeled in and deflated, and U.S. troops started promoting off their civilian automobiles to non-public contractors. He spoke on the situation of anonymity as a result of his employer didn’t authorize him to talk to the media.

All through the weeks-long Taliban offensive in southern Afghanistan, the huge cargo planes continued their runs to and from Kandahar Air Area, he stated.

For Afghan authorities forces stationed in and round Kandahar, the presence of U.S. troops is as a lot about symbolism as it’s concerning the technical assist they will present, Kamin stated.

“It’s all about morale,” he stated. “When U.S. forces are growing, the morale is larger. When they’re lowering, the morale suffers.”

In lots of elements of Afghanistan, as U.S. troops have drawn down, insecurity and better ranges of violence have adopted. And though the general public textual content of the U.S.-Taliban deal doesn’t name for a discount in violence, U.S. officers have stated Taliban assaults on cities and cities beneath Afghan authorities management are “not constant” with the settlement.

Abdul Nafi Pashtun, commander of Afghanistan’s 04 paramilitary unit, stated the Taliban’s assault on Arghandab is one other breach of the deal.

“Their plan was to enter Kandahar metropolis,” he stated. Established primarily to conduct night time raids and different small, focused operations, Pashtun’s unit has been marshaled to combat on the entrance traces over the previous seven months as Taliban assaults have intensified and common Afghan items with much less U.S. assist have proved unable to guard territory beneath authorities management.

He and his commandos had been referred to as in to assist different Afghan forces as they struggled to retake Arghandab earlier this month. The district, thought of the gateway to Kandahar metropolis, sits on its northwestern edge alongside considered one of three primary roads that join town to the remainder of Afghanistan.

Majahad, the nationwide police commander in Arghandab, stated an estimated 3,500 Taliban fighters launched the primary assault on his district and “had 500 motorbikes with them,” he stated, shaking his head.

In three many years of army service, he stated, he by no means noticed a Taliban assault of such magnitude. “There isn’t any doubt they’re stronger and extra nicely geared up now,” he stated. “And with this information [of faster U.S. troop withdrawals], the Taliban will get an ideal benefit.”

Fatima, a widow in her 60s from Arghandab who like many Afghans goes by a single identify, fled to Kandahar metropolis greater than two weeks in the past with three young children.

“There have been bullets in every single place,” she stated. “This battle is the worst I’ve seen for the reason that Soviet time.”

Saki Jana fled together with her household from Panjawai district west of Kandahar, the place intense clashes with the Taliban are ongoing. She additionally stated the variety of Taliban fighters was far higher on this assault than in earlier assaults.

“They had been simply in every single place, on each avenue. They solely ran to cover when you can hear a helicopter coming,” she stated.

With out the worry of U.S. air and drone strikes for the reason that signing of the February deal, the Taliban can extra simply transfer fighters and gear across the nation, Majahad stated. And the militants may also collect brazenly in bigger teams, as they did within the days and weeks main as much as the offensives in Helmand and Kandahar.

“I don’t suppose we are going to ever be capable of return,” Fatima stated. Whereas Afghan authorities forces have retaken most of her district, she stated she doesn’t belief that they received’t abandon their posts the following time the Taliban launches an assault.

“The People are leaving, the Taliban are growing their assaults, and we’re caught in between,” she stated. “This nation is simply being destroyed.”

Aziz Tassal in Kandahar and Dan Lamothe in Washington contributed to this report.