August 4, 2017 / 11:42 AM / 14 days ago

Afghan forces gain ground from Taliban in pattern of territory changing hands

KABUL (Reuters) - Afghan security forces retook a district center in the eastern province of Paktia on Friday, following a sequence of fighting with Taliban insurgents that has seen control over a series of strongpoints change hands in recent days.

Paktia police chief Toryalai Abdiani said security forces took back control of Jani Khil district and killed dozens of Taliban fighters.

Jani Khil district center, which sits on a major road from Pakistan into eastern Afghanistan, fell to the Taliban last month. The movement's main spokesman, Zabihullah Mujahid, denied that it had lost control of the town.

Abdiani said the troops were advancing with caution because of risk of roadside bombs.

Also on Friday, Afghan forces battled Taliban fighters in Greshk district, one of the most heavily fought-over areas in the southern province of Helmand, where the insurgents have control of nine of 14 districts, according to U.S. figures.

Friday's fighting, which followed an attack on a convoy near Kabul that killed a Georgian member of the NATO-led Resolute Support training and advisory mission, was a further illustration of the rising violence across Afghanistan this year.

More than 2,500 members of the Afghan security forces were killed in the first four months of the year and UN figures show a 22 percent increase in security incidents across the country in the first quarter of the year to the highest level since the United Nations started reporting a decade ago.

U.S. commanders have declared the conflict to be stuck in stalemate, drifting between small unit engagements and high-profile attacks against civilian targets in the cities with neither side capable of securing lasting victory.

The U.S. administration has been considering sending 4,000 more troops to Afghanistan but plans have been delayed by splits over the wider policy, with President Donald Trump reported to be skeptical about continuing with an open-ended commitment.

Reporting by Mohammadullah Hematyar and Mohammad Stanekzai; writing by James Mackenzie; editing by Nick Macfie

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