US conducts air strikes as fighting rages in Afghan province

KABUL - US aircraft carried out a dozen strikes in Helmand province in southern Afghanistan on Wednesday as fierce battles continued with Taliban insurgents around the town of Marjah near the provincial capital, a US army spokesman said.
The strikes came a day after one US service member was killed and two other Americans and a number of Afghan special forces soldiers were wounded during operations in the province, which has seen months of heavy fighting.
US army spokesman Col. Michael Lawhorn said US special forces were still in place on Wednesday, supporting Afghan army units in Marjah and Sangin district, further to the north, and air support had also been provided.
"US forces have conducted 12 air strikes in support of operations in and around Marjah," he said.
The strikes highlight the intensity of the combat in Helmand, a traditional Taliban stronghold where hundreds of British and American soldiers and marines were killed or wounded fighting the insurgency.
Provincial police chief Abdul Rahman Sarjang said 120 Taliban insurgents had been killed since Monday, when security forces began an operation to clear Marjah. There was no independent confirmation of the figure.
"We have had a lot of achievements from this operation and we will continue until we free Marjah from Taliban," he said.
The US and Britain have sent additional special forces personnel to the province to help train and assist Afghan police and army units. But officials said their main role is not to be involved in fighting.
Over the past six months, the Taliban has overrun much of the province, one of the world's major centers of opium production, in a broad offensive that has put Afghan government forces under severe strain.
Although international troops ended combat operations last year, the United States has continued to conduct some air strikes in support of Afghan troops, while special forces units have also been drawn into fighting on occasion, officials have said.
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