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Afghan Forces Retake Key Southern District From Taliban

FILE - A military vehicle patrols in the Babaji area of Lashkar Gah Helmand province, Afghanistan, May 8, 2016. Afghan National Security and Defense Forces (ANDSF) entered Nawa district in southern Helmand province early Monday.

Afghan security forces, backed by U.S. military advisers and air power, have evicted insurgents from a strategically important southern district, nine months after the Taliban had overrun it.

A regional military spokesman, Wali Mohammad Ahmadzai, told VOA that Afghan National Security and Defense Forces (ANDSF) entered Nawa district in southern Helmand province early Monday and established government control over it following two days of intense battles with the Taliban.

Nawa-i-Barakzayi district, Afghanistan
Nawa-i-Barakzayi district, Afghanistan

He said overnight U.S. airstrikes against three important Taliban bases in the area killed more than 20 insurgents and made it easier for Afghan forces to retake control of the district center.

The Taliban has not yet commented on official victory claims.

Ahmadzai said a search and clearing operation is currently underway in the district where insurgents have heavily mined areas around key installations. He promised to release details of casualties suffered by both sides, saying the Taliban lost dozens of its fighters since Afghan forces launched a large-scale offensive on Saturday to retake Nawa.

The agriculturally-rich Afghan district is located about 30 kilometers west of the provincial capital of Lashkarga and its collapse had enabled the Taliban to stage repeated assaults on the city in their bid to capture it.

Lashkarga hosts hundreds of U.S. marines who returned to Afghanistan earlier this year to assist struggling local forces reverse Taliban advances in Helmand. The insurgents control many of the districts in the country’s largest province and poppy producing region.

Helmand borders Pakistan, where Afghan officials allege the Taliban has established recruiting and training centers, charges the neighboring country denies.

Meanwhile, the United Nations has warned the Afghan conflict continued to inflict record high levels of casualties on innocent civilians in the first six months of 2017.

The U.N. Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), in its mid-year report released Monday, documented a total of 1,662 civilian deaths between January 1 and June 30, showing an increase of two percent over the same period last year. The fatalities included 174 women and 436 children, it said. UNAMA began documenting civilian casualties in January, 2009, and has since recorded more than 26,600 civilian deaths and just under 49,000 injuries as result of the armed conflict in Afghanistan.