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In this file photo from Oct. 19, 2013, U.S. Marines patrol near Forward Operating Base Musa Qala, Helmand province, Afghanistan.

In this file photo from Oct. 19, 2013, U.S. Marines patrol near Forward Operating Base Musa Qala, Helmand province, Afghanistan. (James Mast/U.S. Marine Corps)

KABUL, Afghanistan — Afghan security forces, backed by American air power, have begun an offensive to push insurgents out of a strategic district in southern Helmand province, officials said Thursday.

The Afghan-led operation to retake the Musa Qala district in Helmand began early Thursday, provincial police spokesman Shah Mahmoud Ashna said.

Local security forces have been supported by U.S. and NATO airstrikes, coordinated by coalition special operations forces based in Helmand, Ashna said. American aircraft have executed “multiple kinetic strikes” against insurgent positions in the district over the past three days, coalition spokesman Col. Brian Tribus said Thursday.

Although the coalition declared a formal end to its combat mission last year, U.S. and NATO forces have continued to provide air support in some cases.

Insurgents wrested control of the Musa Qala district center and police headquarters on Tuesday. Kabul dispatched reinforcements Wednesday, Ashna said, in preparation for Thursday’s counterattack.

Local forces had been launching sporadic counterattacks against the insurgents since the district center fell, Musa Qala’s administrative chief, Mohammad Sharif, said Wednesday.

Five Afghan security forces have been killed and 10 wounded, Ashna said.

The district has long been an opium-growing area and stronghold of the Taliban, who maintain a firm grip on the area and its lucrative drug trade.

With the backing of coalition airpower, security forces are planning to push beyond the Musa Qala district center and into surrounding Taliban-controlled area long considered out of reach by government forces, Ashna said.

In June, Taliban fighters executed a string of successful, coordinated attacks against military and police checkpoints in the district before being driven out by Afghan forces.

Since April, insurgents have taken over some district centers, only to be pushed out again by government reinforcements.

Zubair Babakarkhail contributed to this report.

munoz.carlo@stripes.comTwitter: @natseccarlo

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