LASHKAR GAH: Afghan security personnel stand near an armoured vehicle on the outskirts of the capital of Helmand province on Wednesday.—AFP
LASHKAR GAH: Afghan security personnel stand near an armoured vehicle on the outskirts of the capital of Helmand province on Wednesday.—AFP

LASHKAR GAH: Ameri­can warplanes were backing Afghan forces against a major Taliban offensive in the south of the country even as the US military pressed on with a troop withdrawal, officials said on Wednesday, but the militants still captured a northern district.

Fierce fighting has erupted in southern Helmand province since the weekend, when the US military formally began withdrawing its remaining troops from Afghanistan.

They were supposed to have pulled out by May 1 under a deal struck with the Taliban last year, but Washington pushed back the date to Sept 11 — a move that angered the militants.

“The heavy US air strikes against Taliban positions stopped them from advancing towards Lashkar Gah,” said Atiqullah, a government official, referring to the provincial capital of Helmand.

“The bombing was intense. I have never seen such bombardment in several years.” Attaullah Afghan, head of the Helmand provincial council, said Taliban forces had made advances, but government forces had “retaken some of these areas”.

“The Taliban have intensified their attacks in almost all districts of Helmand for four days,” he said.

A US defence official confirmed air support was backing government forces.

The US military continues “to deliver precision air strikes in support” of Afghan forces in Helmand and other regions of the country, the official said.

Still, the Taliban captured the district of Burka in the northern province of Baghlan.

Published in Dawn, May 6th, 2021

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