Afghanistan declares victory in major Taliban battle
29 June 2014, 04:08 -- Afghan security forces on Saturday claimed victory against a Taliban offensive in the country's volatile Helmand province after days of fighting, seen as a test of the country's security forces as NATO-led troops pull out.
The Taliban onslaught began on June 19, when at least 800 fighters launched the offensive centered in Sangin district, a hotbed of opium production and intense fighting during the 13-year insurgency.
'The Taliban offensive has been beaten back. Their plan to gain territory and capture districts has been totally foiled. Some 260 of the terrorists have been killed', Afghanistan's interior ministry spokesman Sediq Sediqqi told AFP.
Sediqqi also said that 28 of the Afghan forces were killed in the fighting.
The Taliban's drive into Helmand province is seen as the biggest test yet of Afghan security forces in this summer's 'fighting season' and comes as the government is locked in a stalemate over the presidential election.
Government forces had started a push to retake the areas they had lost in the early days of the offensive, Seddiqi said, but progress had been 'slow' because the much of the ground that the Taliban had been repelled from was 'heavily mined'.
'Just yesterday, police defused 60 landmines in Sangin district,' Sediqqi said.
A high-ranking Afghan army corps officer in Helmand said earlier in the day that the insurgents had also been beaten back in three other districts - Kajaki, Nawzad and Musa Qala - which they had attacked as their offensive began.
A Taliban spokesman, Yousuf Ahmadi, rejected the governmen's claim, saying that fighting was still ongoing in Sangin.
'Our mujahideen have attacked several security checkpoints in Sangin district,' Ahmadi told AFP.
The battle in Helmand comes as NATO's combat mission winds down towards the end of this year, and Afghan army and police are fighting against the Taliban with decreasing support from the US-led military coalition.
The clashes in Helmand have also raised fears of instability as Afghan politics is caught in a stalemate over the ongoing electoral count, with presidential candidate, Abdullah Abdullah, alleging massive fraud by his rival Ashraf Ghani.
On Wednesday UN special envoy for Afghanistan Jan Kubis warned of 'rising tensions following the second round (of elections), including increasing ethnic overtones'.
A contested election result 'might lead to protracted confrontation with the danger of a slide into violence', he added.
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