Afghanistan's military on Sunday said it killed up to 18 insurgents during airstrikes in the country's Helmand province, the ethnic Pashtun heartland of the Taliban.
Xinhua news agency quoted Brig. Gen. Mohammad Rasoul Zazai, army spokesman of the province, as saying Afghan security forces were acting on a tip-off when "warplanes carried out air raids and struck Taliban hideouts in [the] Loimanda area of Nad Ali district."
The strikes, which are also reported to have destroyed a Taliban vehicle, come as the Afghan Interior Ministry reports up to 22 armed insurgents were killed in countrywide counter-terrorism operations, including in Helmand province.
Taliban spokesmen have yet to comment on the statements.
Helmand province, in Afghanistan's south, comprises an ethnic Pashtun majority and has throughout the years been used as a Taliban stronghold. As recently as August, Afghan security forces, backed by US airstrikes, recaptured the province's Musa Qala district after it was seized by the Taliban.
Sunday's airstrikes come after Taliban forces conducted a series of offensives north of Helmand, including in the Kunduz, Ghazni and Faryab provinces.
Afghan military forces say they stuffed the advances on Ghazni and Faryab, but Taliban militants were able to capture Kunduz city in September -- their most significant urban victory since falling from power in 2001.
Afghan forces recaptured Kunduz last week, but a US airstrike killed 22 civilians when it hit a Doctors Without Borders hospital in the city on Oct. 3.
The strike, which was requested by Afghan military personnel, garnered widespread condemnation, prompting the United States to issue an apology, announce it would compensate the victims, and order coalition forces in the country to undergo rules of engagement training.
By Fred Lambert
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