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Airstrikes Pummel Taliban in South     08/05 06:19


   KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) -- The Afghan air force carried out more airstrikes 
against Taliban positions in southern Afghanistan on Thursday, as the insurgent 
force made additional gains in the country's north.

   The European Union, United Nations and Human Rights Watch urged both sides 
to avoid causing civilian casualties as the fighting rages on. The Taliban has 
been on the offensive in recent months, as U.S. and NATO forces complete their 
pullout from the war-torn country. They have taken vast swaths of land and have 
now turned their guns on larger urban centers.

   A defense ministry statement said air strikes were carried out across the 
country, including in the southern Helmand province, where the provincial 
capital of Lashkar Gah is being fiercely contested. The Taliban control of nine 
of the city's 10 police districts.

   Residents in Lashkar Gah reported heavy bombing near the government radio 
and television station, which is under Taliban control. Several wedding halls 
and a guesthouse of the provincial governor are located near the radio and 
television station.

   The fighting has driven thousands of people from Kandahar and Helmand 
provinces in the south to seek refuge in Kandahar city, which is under siege by 
the Taliban. Government forces control only three of Kandahar province's 17 

   The battle for the city remains at stalemate despite days of ground and air 
operations. Most of the markets are closed, and people in the four displacement 
camps lack proper access to water under a scorching sun.

   In northern Afghanistan, the Taliban have taken control of most of the 
provincial capital of Sar-e-Pul, the head of its council, Mohammad Noor Rahmani 
said. In recent months, the group has gained control of dozens of districts 
across several provinces in the north.

   Meanwhile, Jawzjan province in the north remains under a three-month Taliban 
attack. The stronghold of Marshal Rashid Dostum, an Uzbek warlord, it has lost 
eight out of ten districts to the insurgents, who continue to advance on the 
capital, Shibirghan city.

   The Taliban onslaught seems to have intensified with the start of the final 
withdrawal of U.S. and NATO troops in late April. As attacks intensify, Afghan 
security forces and government troops have retaliated with increasing air 
strikes, aided by the United States. This has raised growing concerns about 
civilian casualties across the country.

   "We can tell you that we are deeply concerned about the safety and 
protection of people in Lashkar Gah, in the south, where tens of thousands of 
people could be trapped by fighting," Stephane Dujarric, the United Nations 
spokesman said on Wednesday.

   "We, along with our humanitarian partners in Afghanistan, are assessing 
needs and responding in the south, as access allows," he said.

   People living in urban centers have stared a campaign in support of Afghan 
forces and saying no to violence in country shouting "Allahu Akbar" God is 
great starting from western Herat and continues to different other provinces.

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