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Afghanistan's Helmand Province Sees Fresh Clashes, Conflicting Claims

Afghan President Hamid Karzai speaks during a news conference in Kabul, Afghanistan, May 4, 2013.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai speaks during a news conference in Kabul, Afghanistan, May 4, 2013.
Fighting between Taliban militants and Afghan government forces has erupted in a highly-volatile corner of Helmand province.

Afghan officials claimed victory Wednesday in southern Helmand province, saying they turned back a series of attacks by Taliban militants in Sangin. A spokesman for the provincial governor estimated 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 [via text message] that their forces had taken over at least three police posts.

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

Separately, the suicide bombing at a marketplace in central Ghazni province killed an anti-Taliban village elder and at least three others. Officials said 14 others were wounded.

This is the traditional start of the summer fighting season in Afghanistan and more of the burden is being put on Afghan forces as NATO and coalition troops continue to draw down.

Some officials say with so much at stake for both the Afghan government and the Taliban, they are wary of claims made by either side.

For example, a NATO spokesman Wednesday was more cautious in describing the fighting in Sangin.

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.

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.

Some information for this report was provided by AP and AFP.

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