Taliban battle Afghan forces for control of southern district

LASHKAR GAH Afghanistan Wed Jun 25, 2014 8:32am EDT

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LASHKAR GAH Afghanistan (Reuters) - Taliban militants have been locked in fighting with Afghan forces this week to wrest control of a southern district, provincial authorities said on Wednesday, in a struggle that has killed or wounded dozens of people.

The Taliban launched its summer offensive in the middle of May and has ramped up attacks across the country, a major concern for the government, as most foreign troops leave by the end of the year.

As many as 800 Taliban fighters have targeted government offices and police outposts in the Sangin district of Helmand province, said provincial government spokesman Omar Zwak.

"Hundreds of fresh (Afghan) troops have arrived and a full-scale battle is going on," said Zwak.

At least 13 policemen, eight army soldiers and 100 Taliban fighters were killed in five days of fighting, said provincial police chief Abdul Qayum Baqizoy.

He could not confirm the exact number of civilian casualties, but said they stood at around 40.

A Taliban spokesman was not immediately available for comment.

Helmand province is a major route for the transit of opium and some districts are controlled by drug dealers and the Taliban.

Attaullah Afghan, a tribal elder in Sangin, said the Taliban attacks aimed to try and open a route to the border to smuggle narcotics.

In a separate incident, two rockets landed in Kabul on Tuesday night, one in the vicinity of the airport, wounding four people, including one woman.

(Reporting by Mohammad Stanekzai; Writing by Praveen Menon; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)

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