First major offensive by Taliban fighters since group appointed new leader leaves dozens dead in southern province.
More than 50 Afghan police officers have been killed over the past two days in heavy fighting around the capital of the southern province of Helmand, officials say.
Helmand, with its strategic location, has been the scene of major attacks by the Taliban over the past year.
As many as 24 officers were killed on Monday, and another 33 on Sunday, regional police commander Esmatullah Dawlatzai told Reuters news agency. Nearly 40 others were injured, he added.
Taliban fighters have managed to enter the outskirts of Lashkar Gah, the provincial capital, and residents could hear the sound of heavy gunfire and artillery throughout the night.
"The situation is not good, we can hear the sound of guns just outside the city, and Taliban now operate within two kilometres of the city," Mohammed Kareem Atal, Helmand member of parliament, said.
He said four government posts have fallen to the Taliban, as the fighters are trying to cut off the main road to the capital Kabul and the neighbouring province of Kandahar.
"The army is using helicopter gunships to support the ground forces. They have so far managed to retake one fallen post, and we are waiting for reinforcement to arrive from Kabul,” Kareem Atal added.
The areas hit by the latest fighting are Greshk, Nad Ali, and Nahr-e Saraj, which neighbour the provincial capital of Lashkar Gah to the north and west.
A charity hospital in Lashkar Gah said it had treated at least 40 injured, among them 30 civilians and 10 security forces.
Afghan officials have taken steps to recapture the lost areas, said Omar Zwak, a spokesman for the provincial governor.
The fighting in Helmand is the first major offensive by the Taliban since their new leader Mullah Haibatullah Akhundzada assumed the leadership of the group after Mullah Akhtar Mansour was killed by a US drone attack inside Pakistan on May 23.
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|William John Cox|
|Allen L. Jasson|