Airstrikes pummel Taliban in south; insurgents gain in north

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KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — The Afghan air force carried out more airstrikes against Taliban positions in southern Afghanistan on Thursday, as the insurgent force made additional gains in the country's north.

A defense ministry statement said air strikes were carried out across the country, including in the southern Helmand province, where the provincial capital of Lashkar Gah is being fiercely contested. The Taliban control of nine of the city's 10 police districts.

Residents in Lashkar Gah reported heavy bombing near the government radio and television station, which is under Taliban control. Several wedding halls and a guesthouse of the provincial governor's are all located near the radio and television station.

Dr. Sher Ali Shaker, head of Helmand's public health department said that in past 24 hours at least three civilians were killed and 40 more including women and children were wounded during battles in Lashkar Gah city.

In northern Afghanistan, the Taliban took control of most of the provincial capital of Sar-e-Pul, the head of its council, Mohammad Noor Rahmani said. In recent months, the group has gained control of dozens of districts across several provinces in the north.

Meanwhile, Jawzjan province in the north remains under a three-month Taliban attack, with most of it's districts having surrendered to the Taliban without a fight. The stronghold of Rashid Dostum, an Uzbek warlord, it has lost eight out of ten districts to the insurgents, who continue to advance on the capital, Shibirghan city.

Dustom returned to Afghanistan on Wednesday and plans to lead the fight in Shibirghan after an agreement with President Ashraf Ghani, his spokesman Ehsan Nero said.

In the west, Taliban attacked seven different parts of Herat city but were defeated, said Jelani Farhad, a spokesman for the provincial governor.

Farhad said that three Afghan security personnel were killed and four others wounded in the firefights, while dozens of Taliban fighters were also killed in the battles on Wednesday night.

Dr. Arif Jalali of Herat Hospital said that one civilian was killed and 12 more were wounded in fighting in Heart city over the past 24 hours.

The Taliban onslaught seems to have intensified with the start of the final withdrawal of U.S. and NATO troops in late April. As attacks intensify, Afghan security forces and government troops have retaliated with increasing air strikes, aided by the United States. This has raised growing concerns about civilian casualties across the country.

“We can tell you that we are deeply concerned about the safety and protection of people in Lashkar Gah, in the south, where tens of thousands of people could be trapped by fighting,” Stephane Dujarric, the United Nations spokesman said on Wednesday.

“We, along with our humanitarian partners in Afghanistan, are assessing needs and responding in the south, as access allows,” he said.

Rahim Faiez And Tameem Akhgar, The Associated Press

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