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Fresh Clashes, Conflicting Claims in Afghanistan's Helmand Province

Fighting between Taliban militants and Afghan government forces has erupted in a highly-volatile corner of Helmand province but the extent of the violence is unclear.

Afghan officials are claiming victory, saying bands of Taliban fighters launched a series of attacks on outposts in Sangin starting Monday in a failed attempt to overrun the area. A spokesman for the provincial governor put the number of attackers at close to 1,000, including Arabs and Chechens linked to al-Qaida.

Taliban officials also claimed victory in the Sangin offensive, telling reporters that their forces had taken over at least three police posts.

Various Afghan officials put the total death toll at four to six Afghan police officers and up to about 20 insurgents.

A NATO spokesman was more cautious in describing the fighting. U.S. Army Colonel Thomas Collins said there appeared to be about 10 groups of eight to 10 insurgents and that it appeared the attacks were drive-by shootings. Collins also said that none of the checkpoints had been overrun.

This time of year is the traditional start of the summer fighting season in Afghanistan.

Sangin has long been one of the more violent sectors of Helmand province, featuring fierce conflict between Taliban fighters and British forces stationed there until recently.