Taliban commander leading offensive was released from prison
A Taliban commander who was recently held as a prisoner of the Afghan government but recently released following US pressure amid recent peace talks is currently in charge of an assault on the southern city of Lashkar Gah, according to a media report.
Mawlavi Talib was one of 5,000 former prisoners who were freed last year following efforts to get the Taliban and the government to the negotiating table.
Instead, he and many other former prisoners like him have returned to the fighting, as the Taliban continues its assault on several key government-held cities, sources told The Wall Street Journal.
Talib is now directly responsible for leading the charge on Lashkar Gah, the paper claims.
The Taliban on Wednesday claimed responsibility for a huge bomb attack in Kabul targeting the defence minister as the insurgents fought for control of a string of besieged cities, mostly around the militants' strongholds in the south.
The bomb-and-gun attack on Defence Minister Bismillah Mohammadi's home Tuesday was one of the biggest in Kabul for months, bringing violence to the capital after intense fighting in the south and west of the country.
The Afghan and US militaries have carried out air strikes against the insurgents to push them back. The Taliban said the Kabul attack was a response to this bombing.
"The attack is the beginning of the retaliatory operations against the circles and leaders of the Kabul administration who are ordering attacks and the bombing of different parts of the country," Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said in a statement on social media.
It represents a major escalation by the Taliban, who have largely refrained from large-scale attacks in the capital in recent years after starting talks with the United States on troop withdrawal.
The US - which invaded Afghanistan in 2000 - is due to withdraw combat troops from the country by September.