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Afghan forces battle Taliban surge with help from U.S. airstrikes

Fighting spiked this week in Afghanistan's Helmand province, where Taliban insurgents have taken a strategically important area under siege, part of a larger offensive that's testing U.S. strategy. Judy Woodruff reports.

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  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Now: Afghanistan, where government forces are trying to blunt a Taliban drive in a key southern region.

    Afghan troops had been losing ground, but officials say reinforcements and American airpower repelled the onslaught overnight, killing a Taliban commander and 50 fighters. Afghan army convoys rolled north toward Sangin district, as police searched cars and people on a main road. The strategically important section of Helmand Province has been under siege by Taliban insurgents.

    Fighting spiked this week, but, today, the provincial governor rejected Taliban claims that they'd routed the defenders.

  • GOV. MIRZA KHAN, Helmand, Afghanistan (through interpreter):

    The district is completely under the control of the government security forces. The enemy never took control of Sangin district. We have arrived there by air and by ground. The military operation is ongoing now.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    They were helped by U.S. airstrikes overnight, hours after Afghanistan's defense minister warned his forces aren't getting air support.

  • MASOOM STANEKZAI, Acting Defense Minister, Afghanistan:

    When the U.S. and the British forces were there, how many enablers they had, how many jets they had, how many helicopters they had, and how many we have today? The way we are fighting today, I think you cannot compare with any of those forces.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    The fighting in Helmand is one part of a Taliban offensive across much of Afghanistan that's testing U.S. strategy.

    President Obama came into office calling for a troop surge in 2009 to defeat the Taliban, and then:

  • PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA:

    We're starting this drawdown from a position of strength.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    In 2011, the president announced a plan for phased withdrawals of combat units. Then, in May of 2014, he said virtually all American forces would be out of Afghanistan by the end of 2016.

    But, in October, faced with Taliban gains, Mr. Obama reversed course and ordered some 5,500 troops to stay into 2017.

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