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Scores of Afghan soldiers defect to Taliban during battle

At least 65 Afghani troops, including several commanders, have joined the Taliban forces in the volatile Helmand province, officials said. The government troops have been clashing with insurgents in the area for weeks.

The authorities launched an investigation into the incident, Helmand province governor Mirza Khan Rahimi said on Saturday.

"Soldiers from an Afghan army brigade in Station area have joined the Taliban with their equipment and weapons," he said, adding that three of the soldiers were commanders.

The Taliban confirmed the incident, which reportedly took place Friday, saying that the government troops "repented their mistakes and surrendered to the Mujahedeen."

The soldiers brought five armored vehicles and ammunition, according to the Taliban spokesman Qari Yousuf Ahmadi.

Pressure on Ghani government

The Afghani troops have been fighting the insurgents near the Helmand provincial capital Lashkar Gah almost non-stop for the past three weeks.

While the soldiers and the police have so far managed to protect the city, they were not successful in pushing the rebel groups out of the surrounding area.

Helmand is among the most volatile parts of the country.

The fighting has been taking an increased toll on Kabul forces since the international troops reduced their air support and surveillance efforts.

Afghan president Ashraf Ghani restated the need to boost Afghan air defenses while speaking via video conference with the US defense secretary Ash Carter.

dj/jm (Reuters, dpa)

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