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Afghan Forces Battle Taliban In North, South

  • RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan

Afghan security forces arrive to fight off Taliban forces in the southern Helmand Province on October 21.

Afghan security forces arrive to fight off Taliban forces in the southern Helmand Province on October 21.

Afghan security forces have launched a two-pronged offensive to take on the Taliban in areas where the militant group has made gains in recent days.

In the southern province of Helmand, Afghan forces are fighting to recapture areas on the outskirts of the provincial capital Lashkar Gah that were seized by Taliban militants on October 20.

Meanwhile, heavy fighting continued in Faryab Province, where the Taliban captured a district on October 19.

Afghan First Vice President Abdul Rashid Dostum -- a former warlord and general in Afghanistan's communist-era military -- traveled on October 20 to the northwestern province that borders Turkmenistan to lead operations there.

The fighting in the two provinces, part of a widening Taliban insurgency across the country, comes three weeks after the militants briefly captured the key northern city of Kunduz in their biggest military success of the 14-year conflict.

On the evening of October 21, Afghan officials said government troops had pushed the Taliban out of one area captured by the militants on the outskirts of Lashkar Gah.

The officials said 1,000 troops were sent to the provincial capital overnight after an area known as Babaji, just 12 kilometers from the city, fell on October 20.

Interior Ministry spokesman Sediq Sediqqi confirmed that Babaji was back under government control, but he said on October 21 that fighting was still taking place in the vicinity of Lashkar Gah, in the areas of Nad Ali and Gereshk.

Overall, officials said government forces had recaptured five out of 15 security check points near Lashkar Gah that had fallen to the Taliban over a 24 hour period.

Omar Zwak, a provincial government spokesman, said there was no danger that Lashkar Gah would fall.

"We have sufficient forces here and Lashkar Gah will never fall to the Taliban," he said, reporting that 66 Afghan insurgents and foreign militants had been killed overnight in the air strikes.

The Afghan Defense Ministry said in an October 21 statement that 55 insurgents, including 10 foreign militants, were killed in Nad Ali and 85 others injured.

Reports said the clashes prompted some local residents to flee Lashkar Gah. But the office of the UN's High Commissioner for Refugees said it had received no "credible reports" that people were leaving the city to escape the violence, according to spokesman Mans Nyberg.

The fighting has threatened the main transport artery linking the major southern city of Kandahar with Herat city in the west.

Helmand, one of the world's biggest centers of opium cultivation, was home to U.S. and British military bases before NATO combat operations ended in Afghanistan in 2014.

Meanwhile, fighting continued for a third consecutive day in the Ghormach district of the northern Faryab Province.

Afghan Defense Ministry spokesman Dawlat Waziri told RFE/RL on October 21 that reinforcements had arrived in the district, although he did not provide specifics.

About 18 police officers, including the district police chief, were captured after the Taliban seized the remote district.

With reporting by AP and Reuters