The US military is supporting the Afghan forces by air to repel a Taliban attack

US warplanes support the Afghan forces in repelling a major Taliban attack in the south of the country, parallel to the continued withdrawal of the US army, but the rebels have nonetheless controlled the north of the country, officials said.

Heavy fighting has erupted in the southern Helmand province since the end of the week, coinciding with the start of the US military officially withdrawing its remaining forces from Afghanistan.

The Americans were supposed to withdraw by May 1 under an agreement they struck with the Taliban last year, but Washington has pushed back the deadline to September 11, a move that angered the insurgents.

"The intense US air strikes on Taliban positions prevented them from advancing towards Askar Jah," the capital of Helmand province, the local government official said.

He added, "The bombing was intense. I have not witnessed such bombing for several years."

Helmand provincial council chairman Ataullah Afghani told AFP that Taliban forces had made progress, but government forces had "recaptured some areas."

"The Taliban intensified their attacks in almost all areas of Helmand four days ago," he added.

A US Defense Department official confirmed that air support was being provided to government forces.

In a statement to Agence France Presse, he explained that the US military continues to "launch accurate air strikes in support" of the Afghan forces in Helmand and other parts of the country.

Despite this, the police announced that the rebels had captured the Burka district in the northern state of Baghlan.

Baghlan police spokesman Jawad Bashrat told AFP that government forces are in a "tactical retreat," but are planning an offensive to retake the area.

Thousands of people in the south fled their homes to seek refuge in Lashkar Gah as a result of the fighting.

"The Taliban knocked on our doors and told us to leave. They did not even give us time to break the fast," said Jalab Shah.

"This war has turned us into nomads," he added.

As for Haji Shireen, he reported that there was fighting in the streets between the Taliban and government forces.

"We had to spend the whole night in the basement. In the morning I took my family to (Lashkar Gah) city. We couldn't even take our clothes," he said.


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