US warplanes helping Afghan forces fend off Taliban: officials
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Fierce fighting has erupted in Helmand province since the weekend, when the US military formally began withdrawing its remaining troops.
They were supposed to have been pulled out by May 1 under a deal struck with the Taliban last year, but Washington now says they will only be out by September 11 -- a slippage that has angered the insurgents.
"The heavy US air strikes against the Taliban positions stopped them from advancing towards Lashkar Gah," said Atiqullah, a local government official, referring to the provincial capital.
"The bombing was intense. I have never seen such bombardment in several years."
Thousands of Afghans have fled their homes and taken refuge in Lashkar Gah in the face of the fighting, officials and residents say.
"The Taliban have intensified their attacks in almost all districts of Helmand for four days," he said.
A US defence official confirmed air support was backing government forces.
Both sides frequently exaggerate casualties inflicted on the other.
Fighting was also reported in other provinces.
The missed deadline raised fears, however, that the Taliban would resume targetting foreign forces even as they completed their withdrawal, or that Afghan troops would be left defenceless without air support.
"We have the military means and capability to fully protect our force during retrograde as well as support the Afghan security forces," US top commander in Afghanistan General Scott Miller said ahead of the weekend.