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Afghan Officials Concerned Over 'Rapid Taliban Advance' In Helmand

Afghan security officials shift injured victims from the scene of a suicide bomb attack that targeted a conoy of foreign forces in Lashkar Gah, Helmand province in November.

Afghan officials have expressed concerned over what they described as "the rapid advance of the Taliban" in Helmand Province and warned several areas in the southern province may fall to the militant group.

In an open letter to President Ashraf Ghani via Facebook, Helmand Deputy Governor Mohammad Jan Rasoolyar pleaded for urgent reinforcement and assistance from Kabul.

Rasoolyar wrote on December 19 that heavy fighting were going on in several areas, including the Sangin district that was on the verge of falling to the Taliban.

The official wrote that "44 people were killed in Sangin the previous day," but didn't elaborate.

He wrote the Khanashin district has already fallen to the militants, who also attacked the Marjah district in November.

The Taliban now controls the main highway that links Marjah to the provincial capital, Lashkar Gah, he said.

The deputy governor wrote that international forces don't assist Afghan government troops and that they only watch the situation.

Abdulhai Akhunzada, a lawmaker from Helmand, backed the deputy governor's concerns, saying "intense fighting is going on right now in five districts" of Helmand, with the Taliban rapidly advancing there.

"The security situation is grave across Helmand," he said on December 20. "Serious fighting is taking place in Sangin, Washir, Nahri Saraj, Khanashin, and Marjah districts as we speak."

"If the central government doesn't pay attention to the situation, several areas in Helmand could fall to the Taliban," the lawmaker told RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan.

Akhunzada said "government troops who have been fighting in Helmand for several months, are exhausted," and called the government in Kabul to send "fresh forces."

In Kabul, a spokesman for the Defense Ministry confirmed the ongoing fighting in Helmand, but he said the Taliban suffered heavy losses.

Dawlat Waziri said on December 20 that more than 150 Taliban fighters were killed in Helmand in the past 24 hours.

Waziri said 11 government soldiers were also killed in the clashes.

The moral is high among government troops, he said.

Violence has increased sharply across Afghanistan since the U.S.-led military coalition formally ended its combat mission last year.

The coalition has left a contingent of about 12,000 NATO troops to train and assist Afghan forces fighting the Taliban-led insurgency.

The Taliban has had a strong presence in Helmand, controlling lucrative opium production that helps to fund the insurgency.

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