KANDAHAR, Afghanistan (Reuters) -U.S. forces were involved in heavy fighting with Taliban guerrillas in Afghanistan on Saturday but there was no immediate word on casualties, provincial officials said.
Afghanistan has seen a surge in attacks by Taliban insurgents and their militant allies in recent months and the Taliban have vowed to launch a spring offensive against U.S.-led foreign forces and the Western-backed government.
The clash erupted after U.S. troops backed by helicopter gunships and jets launched an operation in the Sangin district of the southern province of Helmand, after being tipped-off about the presence of Taliban in a village, police said.
“There was bombing by jets and helicopters,” Matiuallah, police chief of Sangin who uses only one name, told Reuters.
Given the “very intense” fighting, Matiuallah said he assumed their would be casualties but he had no confirmation.
Afghan forces had been sent to join the U.S. forces battling the insurgents, another official said. U.S. and Afghan forces fought the biggest battle in months against Taliban fighters in the same district at the beginning of February.
A U.S. military spokesman said he had no information about a clash. A Taliban commander, Mullah Zainullah, said by telephone from the area Taliban fighters had killed five Afghan troops.
Several villagers from Sangin said by telephone some Taliban had been staying a house that got bombed.
Helmand has been a bastion of Taliban insurgents since U.S. and Afghan opposition forces ousted their government in late 2001.
The province is also Afghanistan’s main opium-growing region and the insurgents are in league with drug gangs, complicating efforts to bring security and stamp out drugs, security officials say.
British troops have been arriving in the province in recent weeks as part of an expansion of a NATO-led peacekeeping force into the Afghan south. In all, 3,300 British troops will soon be based in Helmand.
A British military spokesman said he had no word on British forces involved in fighting on Saturday.