2 Afghan helicopters crash amid Helmand fighting, 9 dead

LASHKAR GAH, Afghanistan (AP) — Two Afghan army helicopters collided while transporting wounded soldiers amid renewed fighting against Taliban militants in the southern Helmand province, killing nine Afghan service members, the country’s Defense Ministry and local officials said Wednesday.

The two Soviet-era Mi-17 helicopters crashed due to technical problems while taking off in Nawa district late Tuesday, the Afghan Defense Ministry statement said. The nine dead were all Afghan crew and soldiers on board the two aircraft.

The crash came amid a new wave of fighting in Helmand province between the Afghan military and Taliban insurgents. The Taliban control roughly 80% of Helmand, and in the past year have waged several attacks on the capital of Lashkar Gah only to be repulsed by Afghan security forces, whose control is largely restricted to district centers.

Attacks in other parts of the country Wednesday killed at least six Afghan security forces and eight civilians.

Gen. Assadullah Khalid, Afghanistan’s acting defense minister, visited Lashkar Gah on Wednesday to discuss the security situation in Helmand province, a Defense Ministry statement.

Omer Zwak, a spokesman for Helmand’s provincial governor, said Taliban fighters have launched coordinated attacks in different parts of Helmand province over the past week, which have intensified in recent days.

Zwak also said the helicopters that crashed Tuesday were carrying wounded troops. Three local officials in Helmand province said the helicopters were deploying Afghan commandos to repel a Taliban attack in Nawa district, and were evacuating wounded soldiers on their return flight. The Afghan officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media about military activities.

On Monday, American forces said they had carried out several airstrikes in Helmand province in support of Afghan security forces under attack by the Taliban.

Col. Sonny Leggett, a spokesperson for the U.S. military in Afghanistan, said Monday that the recent Taliban attacks in Helmand were “not consistent” with a U.S.-Taliban deal signed in February and undermine ongoing intra-Afghan peace talks. He said the airstrikes do not violate the February deal.

Thousands of Afghan civilians have fled Nawa and Nad Ali districts because of the fighting, said Atiqullah, a local community leader from Nawa district, who like many Afghans goes by just one name.

“Nothing is left to us, we lost everything, including our home, property and livestock,” he said. He and his family fled to stay with relatives in Lashkar Gah.

“The Taliban have launched attacks against security checkpoints, and they control most parts of Nawa district,” he added.

In northern Afghanistan, a gunbattle erupted after militants attacked security checkpoints in Guzerga-i Noor district of Baghlan province, killing at least six security personnel and wounding two others, said Jawed Basharat, a spokesman for the provincial police chief.

He blamed the Taliban for the attack and said reinforcements were dispatched to the still-raging gunbattle.

The Taliban did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the fighting in Baghlan.

In the western Herat province, at least five small children were killed and 10 civilians wounded when their vehicle was hit by a roadside bomb, said Jilani Farhad, spokesman for the provincial governor.

He said the civilians were traveling to a wedding in another village in Kush-i Kohna district when the blast struck their vehicle.

In the eastern province of Laghman, three civilians were killed and 14 more wounded by a magnetic explosive device attached to a police vehicle, said Shafiullah Afghanyar, a provincial police spokesman.

No one immediately claimed responsibility for either bombing in Herat and Laghman provinces.

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Faiez reported from Kabul, Afghanistan.

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