Afghan war enters more brutal phase as U.S. troops begin pullout

NAWA, Afghanistan — The fight between Afghan government troops and the Taliban is entering a more brutal phase as a reduction in airstrikes against the militants by withdrawing U.S. forces has largely shifted combat to ground engagements, many on the edges of densely populated urban areas after some recent Taliban advances.

The area had been densely mined by the Taliban, and weeks of clashes left the streets shredded: dirt roads littered with craters and mud-straw walls pockmarked with bullets and shrapnel.

For months, the Taliban slowly expanded its influence across Afghanistan after signing the withdrawal deal with the United States. The halt in offensive U.S. operations, especially airstrikes and raids, allowed the group to mass fighters, gather supplies, and chip away at government-held territory.

The country’s south, specifically Helmand, witnessed some of the militants’ most striking advances.By May 1, the date marking the start of the complete withdrawal of foreign forces from Afghanistan, the Taliban had massed hundreds of fighters in Helmand. And as the U.S. military handed over its last base here to the Afghan government, Taliban fighters launched a massive assault the same day on the provincial capital, Lashkar Gah, overrunning territory in three districts including Nawa.

While Nawa had fallen to the Taliban several times over the past two decades, residents say the current battle to retake the area is unlike the others before: It has dragged on for weeks rather than days, and both sides are using heavier weaponry.

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