In Lashkar Gah, many residents are trapped and terrified. Taliban fighters are in the streets having captured most of the provincial capital of Helmand.
Government forces have held onto some important buildings for now, supported by elite units, but they are urging people to evacuate as violence grows, with one audio message warning “We will not leave the Taliban alive”. But despite the apparent confidence of the army, their enemy is winning – the Taliban is close to success in its attempt to take over the city that once served as the British army’s headquarters.
What is happening there is a more intense version of what is happening in several other built-up areas of Afghanistan.
This could be a turning point for the Taliban as in parts of the country, frontlines are being pushed into urban areas as US and NATO forces complete their pull-out. ‘Who controls Afghanistan?’ is a difficult question with no simple answer.
An ever-evolving map published online by the Long War Journal has helped chart the growing patches of red which show territory controlled by the Taliban.
But for weeks, optimists have portrayed ‘the Taliban issue’ as a rural problem, overstated by maps, which treat every square mile as having equal significance. But now fighting has intensified in Kandahar, the country’s second largest city, as well as the western city of Herat.
Officials in Kabul, London and Washington DC have described to ITV News their growing sense of concern about the pace of the Taliban’s operation in Afghanistan.
“I guess you could say that things are looking a little shakier than when we last talked,” said one western senior security source earlier today - in late June he spoke with cautious confidence about the prospects of the militant offensive in Afghanistan crumbling away before it reached major urban areas.
“We have moved a little further from the best-case version since then and that’s obviously worrying”. Part of that worry for many foreign governments is the fear that the advance of the Taliban might give al-Qaeda the opportunity to rebuild its network.
Reports in June said a US intelligence assessment had suggested the Afghan government could collapse before the end of the year.
Many observers believe even that analysis might now be optimistic.