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Taliban Captures District in Helmand Province

FILE - A member of the Afghan security forces walks as smoke billows from a building after a Taliban attack in Gereshk district of Helmand province, Afghanistan, March 9, 2016.

Afghan officials and Taliban sources in Afghanistan confirmed the Islamist insurgency has overrun another district in the southern Helmand province, which borders Pakistan.

Taliban fighters staged a surprise assault on Khanashin overnight and fighting was still continuing in parts of the district, a provincial government spokesman told Afghan media Saturday.

However, a Taliban spokesman claimed the group has captured the entire district after clearing it of “enemies”.

In a brief statement sent to VOA, he said the insurgents inflicted heavy casualties on Afghan security forces before they abandoned Khanashin. It was not possible to verify Taliban claims.

Khanashin is adjacent to the porous border with Pakistan and it has fallen to the Taliban for a third time within a year.

Speaking to VOA on condition of anonymity, Afghan security officials alleged that heavily-armed Taliban insurgents sheltering on the Pakistani side also took part in Thursday night's assault.

They confirmed the regional security commander was among those wounded in the fighting. Both sides have reportedly suffered casualties but no confirmed details are available.

Helmand is Afghanistan’s largest province and is notorious for being a major poppy-producing region. It has been persistently under attack from the Taliban, prompting the United States military to deploy soldiers to the restive region to assist and advise Afghan forces.

On Friday, a U.S. federal oversight agency reported the Taliban was in direct control of four districts in Helmand.

The Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) said that the Afghan government has lost control of approximately 5 percent of the country’s districts in the first five months of this year.

The report also noted that high attrition within the Afghan national army is affecting the experience level of front line troops. "Annually almost one-third of the force is lost to attrition," the agency said.

The assessment attributed to the U.S. military is part of SIGARs latest quarterly report submitted to the U.S. Congress.

It said that the Taliban have been exceptionally active in 2016, particularly after launching their annual spring offensive “Operation Omari”.

Despite U.S. expenditures of nearly $70 billion to build and sustain the Afghan Defense and National Security Force (ANDSF), challenges remain, and the force intended to stand on its own by now still needs help, according to SIGAR.