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Sixteen Afghan Pro-Government Fighters Killed In Taliban Attack

FILE: A U.S. Marine watches Afghan National Army (ANA) soldiers during a training in Helmand province, in July 2017.

Afghan officials say a Taliban attack has killed 16 members of a pro-government militia force in the southern province of Helmand.

The officials said a checkpoint belonging to the militiamen in Gareshk district was targeted during the night of February 10.

Some reports said a Taliban infiltrator who had worked with the militia for months turned his gun on the militiamen before fleeing with their guns and ammunition.

“We know that a Taliban fighter killed 16 militiamen fighting alongside government forces, but who these forces belong to, we don’t know yet," said Omar Zwak, spokesman for the provincial governor.

He added that an investigation was under way.

The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack, with spokesman Qari Yusouf Ahmadi saying two Taliban fighters involved in the attack managed to escape.

The Western-backed government in Kabul has been struggling to fend off the Taliban and other militant groups since the withdrawal of most NATO troops in 2014.

After the pullback, Taliban fighters seized a sizable amount of territory, especially in Helmand, with local officials estimating that the extremists controlled some 85 percent of the poppy-growing province early last year.

In recent weeks, Kabul has been hit by several deadly assaults, including a massive suicide car bombing in a crowded central area on January 27 that killed more than 100 people and was claimed by the Taliban.

U.S. President Donald Trump in August unveiled his new strategy for the South Asia region, under which Washington has deployed 3,000 more troops to Afghanistan to train, advise, and assist local security forces, and to carry out counterterrorism missions.

The United States currently has around 14,000 uniformed personnel in the country.

Based on reporting by AP and Reuters