KANDAHAR -- Afghan National Defence and Security Forces (ANDSF) have killed more than 200 militants this week, including 22 members of al-Qaeda, according to the Afghan Defence Ministry.
The ministry said Tuesday (May 4) on Twitter that "181 Taliban terrorists were killed and 87 others were wounded in Laghman, Ghazni, Kandahar, Zabul, Herat, Helmand and Baghlan provinces in the 24 past hours in ANDSF operations".
"Also, 94 #IEDs which were placed by Taliban on public roads were discovered and defused by #ANA," the statement added, using hashtags for mprovised explosive devices and the Afghan National Army.
In a separate Tuesday statement on Twitter, the ministry said that "22 Pakistani members of al-Qaeda were killed as a result of #ANA operations in different parts of Helmand province during 24 past hours."
Under the terms of last year's withdrawal deal, the Taliban agreed not to attack US troops, but its militants have continued assaults on Afghan forces.
The gradual US withdrawal has raised fears that the Taliban would resume targeting foreign forces even as they completed their withdrawal, or that Afghan troops would be left vulnerable without air support.
"We have the military means and capability to fully protect our force during retrograde as well as support the Afghan security forces," Gen. Scott Miller, the US top commander in Afghanistan, said last Friday.
Escalation in Helmand
Fighting was reported in several provinces since the US military formally began pulling out its remaining 2,500 troops last Saturday, including in Helmand province.
Afghan forces have pushed back insurgent attacks on multiple checkpoints in the past 24 hours in the province, where the US military on Sunday handed over a base to government forces as part of the withdrawal.
"The heavy US air strikes against the Taliban positions stopped them from advancing towards Lashkargah," said Atiqullah, a local government official, referring to the provincial capital.
"The bombing was intense. I have never seen such bombardment in several years."
Air support is backing government forces, confirmed a US defence official.
The US military continues "to deliver precision air strikes in support" of Afghan forces in Helmand and other regions of the country, the official told AFP.
Twenty-five Taliban militants, including a key commander, were killed in Nahr-e-Saraj district and the outskirts of Lashkargah in ANA operations and air strikes Tuesday night, the Defence Ministry said.
The operations destroyed weapons and ammunition as well.
Taliban forces had made advances, but government forces had "retaken some of these areas", Attaullah Afghan, chairman of the Helmand provincial council, told AFP.
"The enemy has now lost all the areas it had captured and suffered heavy casualties," Afghan told AFP.
"The Taliban have intensified their attacks in almost all districts of Helmand for four days," he said.
Thousands of Afghans have fled their homes and taken refuge in Lashkargah, officials and residents say.
Some 1,000 families fled from fighting that erupted on the outskirts of Lashkargah and in other parts of the province, said Sayed Mohammad Ramin, the region's office director for refugees.
The families sought refuge in Lashkargah from areas where fighting was intense in the past two days, said Ramin.
"We will survey their needs tomorrow [Thursday], but many who still have not found shelter in the city need urgent assistance," Ramin told AFP.
UK-based medical care provider Emergency said it is receiving large numbers of "war wounded patients" at its surgical centre in Lashkargah because of fighting in the area since last Saturday.
The hospital received 106 patients, 65 of whom had to be admitted, said Emergency.
"These are very difficult days in Lashkargah ... We have also put beds in the physiotherapy room to accommodate all the injured patients," Viktor Urosevic, medical co-ordinator at the hospital, said in a statement issued by Emergency.
The violence in Helmand was not an isolated event, said Marco Puntin, Emergency's Afghanistan co-ordinator.
"We have witnessed an escalation of conflict across Afghanistan," he said.