LASHKAR GAH, Afghanistan (Reuters) - Afghan government forces, backed by NATO air strikes, have regained control of a key district in volatile Helmand province after days of fierce fighting with Taliban insurgents, provincial officials said on Sunday.
The fall of Musa Qala in Helmand to the Taliban on Wednesday put government forces under more pressure than at any time since most NATO combat troops withdrew at the end of last year, with no sign of violence abating.
Helmand province in the south has seen some of the fiercest battles over the course of the war that began almost 14 years ago. British forces lost more than 400 men trying to defeat the Taliban and some 350 U.S. Marines were also killed there.
“A comprehensive operation led by chief of the army staff, managed to retake Musa Qala in which 220 enemies were killed and wounded,” Afghanistan’s defense ministry said in a statement.
British and Afghan troops first wrenched Musa Qala, a town of about 20,000 people that straddles opium farms and smuggling routes, from the Taliban eight years ago before the Islamist militants won it back four days ago.
U.S. aircraft from NATO’s Resolute Support mission had carried out 18 air strikes over the past week trying to push the Taliban from the district, coalition spokesman Brian Tribus said. Some foreign soldiers had also helped on the ground, Tribus said.
A man in Afghan military uniform opened fire last week in Camp Bastion, a former British base in Helmand now run by the Afghan army, killing two U.S. service personnel before being shot and wounded.
Violence has increased sharply across Afghanistan since the U.S.-led military coalition formally ended its combat mission last year and left a contingent of about 12,000 NATO troops to train and assist Afghan forces fighting the Taliban-led insurgency.
Reporting by Mohammad Stanekzai; Writing by Hamid Shalizi; Editing by Paul Tait