PRAGUE, May 18, 2006 (RFE/RL ) -- The fighting in Helmand Province erupted on the evening of May 17 following an attack by Taliban forces in the southern town of Mosa Qala.
Afghan officials say 13 police and 40 Taliban were killed during the clashes, which lasted for several hours.
Helmand Deputy Governor Amir Mohammad Akhundzada told Reuters that it was the biggest attack in the province since the fall of the Taliban more than four years ago. He has also said that hundreds of Taliban forces were involved.
In the neighboring Kandahar Province, Afghan forces backed by Canadian coalition troops fought Taliban fighters.
Canada's First Female Soldier Killed
On May 17, a female Canadian soldier died during the clashes. Her death came hours before the Canadian Parliament voted to extend the nation's military mission in the country until 2009.
RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan correspondent in Kandahar, Parviz Najib, says the fighting centered around the Panjwayi district near Kandahar. He says U.S. and British forces provided air support during the operation.
"Civilians have not been hurt in the fighting because they have left the region," he said. "A coalition forces spokesman has confirmed the death of one of their soldiers, and he added that 18 Taliban were also killed and 35 were arrested. The Afghan national army and also Canadian forces are involved in the operation. Last night the region was heavily bombed by American and British planes."
In recent months Taliban forces have stepped up their attacks, especially in the southern regions.
There have been a series of attacks on schools and other educational institutions that the Taliban is suspected on carrying out.
Suicide attacks have also increased. The latest cases were reported today in Herat and in the southern province of Ghazni. Herat police chief Mohammad Ayub Salangi spoke to RFE/RL about the attack in the western city.
"The suicide attack in Herat happened this morning at 9; a passing convoy of Americans was attacked by a car with a Kabul license plate," he said. "As a result. one of the Americans was killed."
A U.S. Embassy spokesman said the American was working for the U.S. State Department to train Afghan police to fight drug trafficking. An Afghan interpreter also was reportedly seriously wounded in the attack.
In another incident, a suicide bomber attacked a U.S. military convoy near the town of Ghazni, southwest of Kabul, killing himself and a civilian.
Vahid Mozhdeh, an Afghan writer and security expert based in Kabul, tells RFE/RL that the increase in violence was expected.
Taliban Seen As Stronger
"Before the Afghan new year [on March 21] when the weather was still cold in Afghanistan, [the] Taliban had warned that they will increase their suicide and other attacks," he said. "It has been said on many occasions that more than 50 people are ready to take part in suicide operations."
The commander of coalition forces in Afghanistan, U.S. Lieutenant General Karl Eikenberry, said last week that Taliban influence in certain areas -- including in the Kandahar, Helmand, and Oruzgan provinces -- is stronger than it was last year.
General Eikenberry also said the number of Taliban fighters may have increased in the past few months.
He said the increased Taliban activity is more attributable to "very weak institutions of the state" rather than a "stronger enemy."
Mozhdeh thinks coalition forces might be responsible for the upsurge in Taliban attacks.
Blaming The Coalition Forces
"They have taken some actions in some parts of Afghanistan that everybody [thought] were wrong but they never apologized for it, including blind bombings and also long detention of people without trial," he said. "Another very important thing is not taking into consideration Afghan values. There have been many warnings about these issues before from the Ulema [clerical] council of Afghanistan and other bodies had said that such actions could lead to an increase in the violence."
Mozhdeh also believes economic hardship and unemployment could lead to frustration with the central government and lead some Afghans to join extremist groups.
General Eikenberry said on May 10 in Washington that Afghanistan needs a stronger government as well as an improved police force.
Afghan officials, meanwhile, say the sources of terrorism in the country come from "outside Afghanistan."
In a May 16 interview with Radio Free Afghanistan, Afghan Foreign Minister Rangin Dadfar Spanta blamed Pakistan and said it is not doing enough to catch Taliban leaders.