October 14, 2016 - 6:22 AM
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan - Hundreds of members of Afghanistan's security forces have been killed recently fighting insurgent attacks on the main city in the southern province of Helmand, officials said on Friday.
Abdul Majeed Akhonzada, deputy head of the provincial council, and lawmaker Sheer Muhammad Akhon put the number of soldiers and police killed in the past 10 days in and around Lashkar Gah at more than 200.
Separately, they each said 45 civilians had also been killed in the fighting, which saw Taliban militants launch attacks on at least two areas of the city earlier this week.
Akhon says 100 security forces personnel have also been wounded. Both police and soldiers fight on Afghanistan's front lines.
Akhonzada and Akhon both say it is the worst situation the province has faced in the 15 years since the Taliban's regime ended with the 2001 U.S. invasion.
The fighting in Lashkar Gah began on Monday with a suicide attack using a car packed with explosives that killed at least 40 people, including many police officers.
Gunmen then entered the city where fighting has continued, forcing many people to flee the city for neighbouring Kandahar province, Akhon said.
He said the U.S. military was present in the city, "but they are just monitoring and doing nothing."
The Americans have a mandate to train and assist Afghan forces in most battlefield situations.
The spokesman for the U.S. military in Afghanistan, Brig. Gen. Charles Cleveland, said American forces had conducted "a total of three airstrikes in Helmand since Oct. 12." Two were near Laskar Gah on Oct. 13, he said, the other was in the Marjah district.
A Taliban spokesman, Qari Yousaf Ahmadi, said 45 Afghan security forces personnel had been taken captive in the past week; Akhon said the number was no higher than 10. The insurgents often exaggerate their battlefield successes.
The Taliban have been gradually taking over Helmand since launching this year's offensive in April. Officials have said they now control around 85 per cent of the province.
Helmand is considered part of the Taliban's heartland, along with Kandahar which was the administrative base of their five-year regime.
Helmand's poppy crop yields opium that makes most of the world's heroin. The value of the crop is estimated by the U.N. Office of Drugs and Crime at around $3 billion a year. Smuggling routes out of Helmand are fiercely guarded by the Taliban as the drugs help fund their insurgency.
O'Donnell reported from Kabul, Afghanistan.
News from © The Associated Press, 2016