US forces hit Taliban with air strikes in Helmand province

US military says strikes were sent in support of Afghan security forces under attack by insurgents

epa08737542 Afghans flee their villages after fighting intensified between Taliban militants and security forces, in Lashkargah, the provincial capital of restive Helmand province, Afghanistan, 12 October 2020. The clashes comes as both the Taliban and Afghan government are in the process of taking the peace talks forward in Doha, Qatar.  EPA/WATAN YAR
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The US carried out air strikes in support of Afghan security forces under attack by the Taliban in southern Helmand province, despite a peace deal signed earlier this year between Washington and the insurgent group.

Col Sonny Leggett, a US military representative in Afghanistan, said the recent Taliban assault in Helmand was not in line with the US-Taliban deal signed in February and that it undermined intra-Afghan peace talks ongoing in Doha.

He also said the air strikes did not violate the February deal.

The Taliban “need to immediately stop their offensive actions in Helmand province and reduce their violence around the country,” Col Leggett said on Twitter, quoting Gen Scott Miller, the commander of US forces in Afghanistan.

Col Leggett said that US forces will continue to provide support in defence of Afghan national security forces when attacked by the Taliban.

The announcement of US strikes followed gun battles on Monday in and around Lashkar Gah, the capital of Helmand province.

Witnesses reported shooting in the city and some residents fled the districts of Nad Ali and Nawa because of the fighting.

Omer Zwak, spokesman for the provincial governor in Helmand, said Taliban fighters started co-ordinated attacks across the province in the past week and stepped those up at the weekend.

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

Helmand's police chief General Khalil-ur-Rahman Jawad told reporters that "tactical measures have been taken to prevent casualties, but security will soon be restored to restore order".

He said the Afghan Air Force had conducted strikes that had killed 170 insurgents in the last 24 hours.

The US-Taliban deal in February provides for the withdrawal of foreign forces from Afghanistan in exchange for security guarantees from the insurgent group, and a pledge to sit down with the Kabul administration to find a peaceful settlement.

Representatives of the Afghan government and the Taliban are now holding negotiations in Qatar, a Gulf state where the Taliban has run a political office for many years. The negotiations are an effort at ending a decades-long war in Afghanistan.