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Taliban seize control of strategic district in Helmand

AT-KABUL: After hours of clashes with the security forces which started on Friday night, the Taliban insurgents seized control of strategically important Khanshin district in the southern province of Helmand.

Provincial Council Member Bashir Ahmad Shaker said that heavy clashes were still underway between security forces and Taliban militants in the district. He said the district chief’s office had fallen to insurgents.

He told Afghanistan Times that the militant group has seized control of government buildings in the district.

“Several government buildings including office of the district chief have fallen to the militants after hours of fierce clash which started last night [Friday],” said the provincial council member.

Attaullah Afghan, another Provincial Council member, told media that a soldier was killed and five others were injured in the clash for control over the district.

However, he did not provide further information.

Spokesman to the provincial governor, Omar Zwak, told Afghanistan Times that fighting between the security forces and insurgents started on Friday when the Taliban launched attacks in different parts of the strategically important district.

“Afghan security forces are fighting the Taliban in several parts of Khanshin to clear the district from insurgents. Clashes between the security forces and the insurgents are underway,” he said. The spokesman also assured of comprehensive operation to defeat the militants in the district.

Other officials in the district, however, refused the reports of the district fall to Taliban.

The provincial government in a statement said that 20 Taliban insurgents were killed and 15 others were wounded in an airstrike on Friday night.

According to the statement the security forces repelled the attack. Reinforcement was immediately rushed to retake the district from the Taliban.

Khaama Press reported that the Special Operations Forces (commandos), of the Afghan National Army have been deployed to Khanshin to push the Taliban out of the district.

Provincial officials had earlier warned the central government that the district would fall to the Taliban if additional troops were not dispatched.

It is worth to mention that on Friday the US Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), in its quarterly report to the Congress, said that the Taliban has gained five percent more territory this year.

“USFOR-A reports that approximately 65.6% of the country’s districts are under Afghan government control or influence as of May 28, 2016, a decrease from the 70.5% reported as of January 29, 2016. Of the 407 districts within the 34 provinces, 268 districts were under government control or influence, 36 districts (8.8%) within 15 provinces were under insurgent control or influence, and 104 districts (25.6 %) were “at risk.” Of the 36 districts under insurgent control or influence, nine districts with a population of 524,072 are under insurgent control and 27 districts with a population of 1.98 million are under insurgent influence,” the report said.

Based on the local media reports, over 50 (12.3%) of the country’s districts are facing serious threats from militants, with nine out of the government’s control as of June 28, 2016. Those districts include four in Helmand, two in Badakhshan, and one each in Ghazni, Sar-e Pul, and Zabul provinces.

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