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80 Taliban rebels killed in Helmand counter attack

– Battle rages to oust militants after commando reinforcements drafted in

– Thousands flee intense fighting

– Rebel offensive aimed at keeping routes open for drug smugglers

AT News

KABUL: Afghan security forces and Taliban insurgents have been fighting since the Sunday morning in southern Helmand province and thousands of people have fled intense fighting, officials have said.

Taliban attacked Helmand and its districts on Sunday and overrun parts of Lashkargah city and other districts. But Afghan security forces staged an overnight counterassault and thwarted their attacks.

At least 80 Taliban rebels were killed and nearly 100 others injured in a counterattack staged by Afghan security forces in southern Helmand province Sunday night. The counterassault came after Taliban militants attacked the outskirts of Lashkargah city, Nadali and Nawa districts, said Ministry of Interior spokesman Tareq Aryan.

Taliban attacks have been thwarted and more than 80 insurgents have been killed and dozens wounded as clashes continue to clear the areas, said Tareq Aryan at a press conference on Monday.

Helmand Governor Mohammad Yasin has said fresh troops had been drafted along with advanced military equipment and firearms on Sunday night to help thwart the assaults and beef up security in Lashkargah city and Nawa district.

Afghan forces had carried out airstrikes on Taliban targets on Sunday night, said his spokesman Omar Zwak. Taliban military vehicles had been destroyed in the raids and their advance had been prevented, he added.

In Nawa district alone, at least 20 Taliban militants were killed in an airstrike launched by Afghan forces. Omar Zwak mentioned that over 70 Taliban militants were killed and wounded during the airstrike by Afghan forces across Helmand on Sunday. He stated that clearance operations still continued on the outskirt of Lashkargah city, and Nadali and Nawah districts. Two security forces were martyred and four wounded in the clashes, he said.

In a rare incident, US forces conducted several targeted strikes in Helmand targeting Taliban insurgents over the past two days. Spokesman to US forces in Afghanistan, Col. Sonny Leggett, in a tweet said that US forces launched strikes to defend Afghan security forces under attack. He vowed continued military support in defense of Afghan forces under attack by the Taliban.

This is as commander of NATO and US forces in Afghanistan, Gen. Scott Miller, urged the Taliban to immediately stop their offensive actions in Helmand province and reduce violence around Afghanistan. He insisted that Taliban’s campaign of violence contravenes the US-Taliban agreement and undermines the ongoing Afghan peace talks.

“Our commandos have reached Helmand and reinforcements will be dispatched too,” said President Spokesman Sediq Seddiqi. At a press conference on Monday, Seddiqi said Special Forces are pushing the Taliban back to protect people in Helmand. He said that rebels have destroyed roads and an electricity station.

Seddiqi linked the Taliban assault to opium cultivation in Helmand. He said the militants staged the attack probably to keep routes open for drug smugglers.

This is provincial officials said Afghan commanders arrested the Taliban’s designated deputy governor for Helmand Malavi Ghafoor – who led the terrorist attack in Lashkargah.

The conflict has displaced more than 4,500 families from Babaji, Nadali and Nawa districts who were forced to flee their homes and take refuge in Lashkargah. They are said to be in dire straits and in need of immediate aid.

Although Afghan officials say violence has escalated since the opening of Afghan peace talks in Doha, the Taliban’s attack on Helmand has been called the group’s biggest attack since the start of the talks.

The Taliban claimed on Sunday that they had seized the fourth security district of Lashkargah city and also the Babaji district, but now officials say they are trying to retake the area.

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