KANDAHAR -- At least nine Afghans were killed Thursday (May 20) when a roadside bomb struck their vehicle in Helmand province, officials said, the latest violence in a region that has seen weeks of intense fighting.
Women and children were killed in the blast, in the provincial capital Lashkargah, Helmand deputy governor Baryalai Nazari told AFP.
Attaullah Afghan, chairman of the Helmand provincial council, confirmed the toll.
No group has claimed responsibility, but the Taliban and Afghan government forces clash regularly on the outskirts of Lashkargah -- more frequently since May 1, when the United States began the final phase of its troop withdrawal.
Afghan forces killed more than 170 Taliban fighters across the country in the past 24 hours, the Defence Ministry said Thursday.
"176 #Taliban terrorists were killed and 112 others were wounded in Ningarhar [Nangarhar], Maidan Wardak, Ghazni, Logar, Khost, Zabul, Kandahar, Badghis, Farah, Herat, Balkh, Konduz [Kunduz], Helmand, Badakhshan Baghlan and Kabul provinces during 24 past hours as a result of #ANDSF operations," the ministry said in a tweet, referring to the Afghan National Defence and Security Forces.
Fighting between Afghan forces and the Taliban resumed early Sunday after a three-day ceasefire in observance of Eid ul Fitr. The ceasefire ran from Thursday through Saturday.
Clashes erupted Sunday morning when the Taliban stormed security checkpoints on the outskirts of Lashkargah, Afghan said earlier.
Continuing US air support
The ANDSF have continued to receive air support from the United States even as US and NATO forces withdraw and hand over key bases.
They have taken the lead in planning and conducting military operations for a year and can independently fight the Taliban, said Fawad Aman, a Defence Ministry spokesman, earlier in May.
In recent weeks, the Taliban have attempted to take over Helmand, Kandahar, Baghlan, Herat, Farah and Ghazni provinces, he said.
Not only have they failed to capture any major city or province, he said, but they have sustained heavy casualties, as the ANDSF killed more than 1,000 of their fighters, commanders and key members in that period.
"The Taliban cannot defeat the ANDSF and absolutely cannot gain power militarily," he said, adding that the more the Taliban increase their attacks, the more members they will lose.