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Several dead in Taliban assault on besieged Helmand capital

A car bomb has left at least 14 people dead in the southern Afghan city Lashkar Gah as the Taliban launched a large-scale attack. Officials say the Taliban now control as much as 85 percent of the opium-rich region.

An attack carried out by Taliban insurgents killed 14 people, including, in the Helmand provincial capital Lashkar Gah, officials said on Monday.

"The enemy attacked to breach the security belt in Lashkar Gah this morning, but the attack was repelled by Afghan security forces," said interior ministry spokesman Sediq Sediqqi told reporters.

The suicide car bomb killed four civilians, the police chief of the Nad Ali district, Haji Marjan, told the Associate Press. Another ten officers died in the blast, including Marjan's brother, he said.

Marjan said that the death toll is expected to rise as it was unclear how many people remain unaccounted for after the explosion. The car bomb wounded at least 15 people, one of whom suffered gunshot wounds, a doctor at the city's emergency hospital told AP on condition of anonymity.

Helmand is strategically important for the Taliban as the country's main source of opium output - worth an estimated $4 billion (3.59 billion euro) - which helps fund the insurgency.

Monday's attack is the Taliban's latest attempt to capture Lashkar Gah after the insurgents expanded their foothold across the southern province.

Provincial officials have said the Taliban are in control of 85 percent of Helmand province. One year ago, the government controlled 80 percent of the territory.

In addition to Lashkar Gah, the militants have attempted seize other provincial capitals in recent days, including Kunduz and Baghlan in the north, and Farah in the west. Afghan forces have managed so far to repel the attacks.

The Taliban have waged an insurgency against Afghanistan's western-backed government since being toppled by a US-led invasion in 2001. The campaign has become the US' longest military intervention since Vietnam.

rs/bw (AP, AFP)

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