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U.S. Strikes Taliban In Helmand, Warns Militants To Halt Offensive

Afghans flee their villages after the fighting intensified between Taliban militants and security forces in Lashkar Gah, the provincial capital of restive Helmand Province, on October 12.

U.S. forces have come to the aid of the Afghan Army in southern Helmand Province, striking at Taliban fighters who had attacked government security forces in the area in recent days and warning the militants to "immediately stop" their offensive in the area.

Colonel Sonny Leggett, the spokesman for the U.S. military in Afghanistan, tweeted on October 12 that the strikes over the past two days in Helmand did not violate the U.S.-Taliban agreement signed in February.

Afghan government representatives and Taliban negotiators are currently holding intra-Afghan talks in Qatar.

"Over the past two days USFOR-A has conducted several targeted strikes in Helmand to defend ANDSF forces under attack by Taliban fighters, consistent with the U.S.-Taliban agreement. USFOR-A has & will continue to provide support in defense of the ANDSF under attack by the Taliban," Leggett wrote.

“The Taliban need to immediately stop their offensive actions in Helmand Province and reduce their violence around the country. It is not consistent with the U.S.-Taliban agreement and undermines the ongoing Afghan Peace Talks,” he continued, quoting General Scott Miller, commander of the U.S. Forces in Afghanistan.

Leggett said U.S. forces have and will continue to provide support in defense of Afghan national security forces under attack by the Taliban.

The announcement of U.S. strikes comes after a gunbattle was reported in and around Lashkar Gah, the capital city of Helmand Province, on October 12.

Eyewitnesses reported intermittent shooting inside Laskar Gah and residents have fled from the Nad Ali and Nawa districts because of the fighting.

Taliban fighters began coordinated attacks in different parts of the province over the past week, stepping them up over the weekend, said Omer Zwak, spokesman for the provincial governor in Helmand.

"The Taliban have destroyed several bridges over the main highway, so the highway is closed right now and no one can travel," Zwak said.

The negotiations in Qatar are meant to end Afghanistan’s decades-long war, following the U.S.-Taliban peace deal signed in February in Doha, Qatar’s capital.

In a surprise move, U.S. President Donald Trump said on October 8 that he wants all U.S. troops to leave Afghanistan by December 25, which would be sooner than he previously proposed and a speedier withdrawal than his national-security adviser outlined in a speech earlier on October 7.

Under the February deal, foreign forces will leave Afghanistan by May 2021 in exchange for counterterrorism guarantees from the Taliban.

With reporting by AP

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