Over 5,600 Afghan families displaced by fighting in south

LASHKAR GAH, Afghanistan (AP) — Renewed fighting in southern Afghanistan's Helmand province between Taliban insurgents and government forces has forced more than 5,600 families to flee their homes, local officials said Thursday.

Omar Zwak, the provincial governor's spokesman, said Afghan security forces were fighting to regain areas lost to the Taliban over the weekend, while the local government was scrambling to provide food and shelter to the growing number of civilians coming from nearby districts to the provincial capital, Lashkar Gah.

Ajab Gul, 25, and his family have been in the city for four days. “The Taliban have taken over our village and both sides in the battle are using light and heavy weapons, so how could we stay there?” he said.

Afghanistan's refugee department estimates an average family has seven members, meaning nearly 40,000 people have likely been displaced, said Mohammad Ramen Ibrahimi, the department's provincial director.

The Taliban control roughly 80% of Helmand province, and over the past year have waged several attacks on Lashkar Gah, only to be repulsed by Afghan security forces, whose control is largely restricted to district centers.

Last week, the Taliban launched coordinated attacks in different parts of Helmand province, Zwak said. He claimed that government forces had retaken much of the territory lost over the weekend, but operations were still ongoing in other parts of the province.

However, several internally displaced persons who had fled to Lashkar Gah told The Associated Press that the Taliban were in control of most of their districts — Marjah, Nad Ali and Nawa. They said the fighting and airstrikes by Afghan forces had forced them to leave their homes and property.

Most internally displaced persons were staying with relatives in Lashkar Gah, said Ibrahimi. His refugee department was providing food and shelter to those with nowhere to stay, but he said more people were coming to the city each day.

Zwak, the governor's spokesman, said discussions were underway between the central government, charity organizations and local businessmen to help those in need.

In Kabul, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and other government officials attended the funeral for nine Afghan service members who died Tuesday night when two Afghan army helicopters collided in Helmand.

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Faiez reported form Kabul, Afghanistan