About 30,000 people flee homes, sparking a humanitarian crisis as fighting rages between Taliban and Afghan forces.
A suicide car bombing has killed 14 people, including 10 Afghan police officers, as the Taliban announced it had launched a large-scale attack on the capital of southern Helmand province.
The armed group has expanded its footprint across most of the province in recent months and has been at the gates of Lashkar Gah city, the provincial capital, for weeks.
According to police official Haji Marjan, the vehicle explosion happened at about 11:30am after the Taliban had earlier targeted police checkpoints across the city.
Marjan said at least 10 police officers, including his brother, and four civilians died in the attack in the Mukhtar area of Lashkar Gah. He said the death toll was likely to rise as it was unclear how many people remain unaccounted for after the blast.
A doctor at the international emergency hospital in Lashkar Gah said 14 bodies had been brought to the clinic.
Speaking on condition of anonymity – as he was not authorised to speak to the media – the physician said 15 wounded were also brought in, including 14 who were victims of the car bombing and one person who suffered gunshot wounds.
In the Afghan capital of Kabul, Sediq Sediqqi, the Interior Ministry spokesman, confirmed the Taliban launched a large-scale attack on security checkpoints in Lashkar Gah on Monday.
But he expressed confidence that the Afghan security forces “will soon push them back”.
Abdul Majeed Akhonzada, deputy director of Helmand’s provincial council, said the fighters entered the city after breaching the Afghan forces’ “defence security belt”.
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said the fighters were advancing through Lashkar Gah.
Helmand is strategically important for the Taliban as it is the main source of the country’s opium output, worth an estimated $4bn a year, much of which funds the war.
Provincial officials have said the Taliban now control 85 percent of the province, while only a year ago the government controlled 80 percent.