Taliban fighters have killed 19 policemen and seven soldiers in a siege at a police compound in southern Afghanistan, the Associated Press reports. The siege is ongoing, according to a senior officer inside the compound, which is in Nawzad, in the north of Helmand Province.
“We need an immediate response from the government,” the police chief told the AP, noting insurgents have seized police vehicles, weapons and blocked roads out of Nawzad.
The province of Helmand has long been a Taliban stronghold. After U.S. troops departed the area last June, the Taliban launched an offensive in the region. It produces almost half of Afghanistan’s opium, and as troops from the North American Treaty Organization have withdrawn from the country, production has surged nationwide.
Government forces responded to Taliban successes with their own offensive in March, but have been stretched thin by ongoing attacks, the AP says. Those include mounting suicide attacks and in some cases, kidnappings and targeted assassinations.
The seige on the police compound is the latest sign of mounting bloodshed in Afghanistan. Deaths among government forces have spiked in 2015, according to the New York Times. That comes on the heels of more than 5,000 deaths suffered by Afghan soldiers and police in 2014, more than in any previous year of conflict in the country. Civilian casualties, too, hit a record high last year, according to the United Nations, surpassing 10,000.
Meanwhile, as its forces struggle to ward off the Taliban, the Afghan government is beginning to pursue new military partnerships with warlords and local militias, the Times reported Monday.
The United States currently has 9,800 troops stationed in Afghanistan. The U.S. was slated to reduce its presence by nearly a half this year, but in March, President Obama said he would delay that planned withdrawal.