US says 100 troops deployed to troubled south Afghan city

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) " Around 100 American troops have been deployed to a southern Afghan city at risk of falling to the Taliban, the spokesman for U.S. forces in Afghanistan said Monday.

Brig. Gen. Charles Cleveland said the soldiers had arrived in Lashkar Gah, the capital of Helmand province, to provide training and support to Afghan forces. He said they would serve as a "new presence to assist the police zone," adding that Afghan security forces have conducted airstrikes in the area.

The Taliban have seized a number of nearby districts in recent weeks and now threaten to overrun the city itself.

Omer Zwak, spokesman for the provincial governor in Helmand, said there were plans for additional U.S. troops to support Afghan security forces in Lashkar Gah.

The head of Helmand's provincial council, Kareem Atal, told The Associated Press that battles were underway "on several fronts" in the province, closing off roads and highways.

"Around 80 percent of the province is under the control of the insurgents," he said. "There are a number of districts that the government claims are under their control, but the government is only present in the district administrative center and all around are under the control of the insurgents."

Helmand's annual $3 billion opium crop produces most of the world's heroin and is used to fund the insurgency. Its population is mainly Pashtun, the ethnic group from which the Taliban derives most of its support, and the province borders Kandahar, where the Taliban's government was based from 1996 until the U.S.-led invasion in 2001.

The insurgents have stepped up attacks in other parts of the country as well, taking advantage of the warm weather to wage war against the Kabul government.

The Taliban seized the Khan Abad district in the northern Kunduz province on Saturday but have since been driven out, according to Interior Ministry spokesman Sediq Sediqqi.

This story has been automatically published from the Associated Press wire which uses US spellings

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