ISLAMABAD - Officials in Afghanistan and the United States military have dismissed concerns the capital of restive Helmand province or any other district there was on the verge of collapse to the Taliban.
The largest Afghan province has been the scene of fierce battles between the insurgents and Afghan troops in recent weeks.
Residents say the Taliban has made rapid advances and lately the fighting has been taking place in districts around the provincial capital of Lashkar Gah, effectively besieging the city.
The conflict has also uprooted thousands of families in Helmand, according to the provincial government.
But Afghan and American military officials dismiss concerns the insurgent group is on the verge of capturing another urban center like they briefly seized control of northern Kunduz city last year.
We do not believe Lashkar Gah, or the province of Helmand, is about to fall. We remain confident that the Afghan forces are fighting effectively and that they will continue to secure Lashkar Gah,” U.S. Army Col. Michael Lawhorn told VOA on Wednesday.
In the past two weeks, he said, the U.S. military has conducted approximately 25 airstrikes in support of the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces in Helmand.
Local officials say that the airstrikes have killed scores of Taliban fighters and deterred their advances.
In recent days, the Taliban has repeatedly blocked the main road linking Lashkar Gah to Kandahar province in the south and have blown up bridges, hampering efforts to send reinforcements for Afghan forces battling the insurgents.
Both sides claim to have inflicted heavy casualties on the opposition but it is difficult to verify fighting details through independent sources.
“Our brave Afghan security forces will not allow terrorists and criminals to turn Helmand into their hideout,” said Interior Ministry spokesman Sediq Sediqqi on Wednesday. He added that all security institutions are determined to spare no effort in securing Helmand.
The Afghan province, which borders Pakistan, producing opium and income from the illegal drug, is funding the Taliban insurgency. Afghan officials and insurgent sources credit Taliban advances in Helmand to a newly created commando-style Taliban unit of several hundred fighters.
The so-called Red Brigade unit uses night-vision technology and snipers to launch lethal attacks against Afghan forces, Afghan commanders and Taliban officials have said in recent days.
Taliban insurgents also launched coordinated attacks Wednesday in two districts in Kunduz and neighboring province of Baghlan, capturing key security outposts and bases, according to Afghan officials and insurgent spokespeople.