Afghan clashes resume after Eid ceasefire as U.S. troops begin pullout

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KABUL (Reuters) - Heavy fighting between Afghan security forces and Taliban insurgents resumed on Monday after a three-day ceasefire announced by both sides for the Muslim holiday of Eid, officials said.

Taliban Islamists have staged a months-long campaign to expand their influence across the country as the United States began withdrawing troops from May 1 and closed some bases in keeping with a peace deal it signed with the Taliban last year.

Afghan officials say the Taliban have stepped up attacks since Washington announced plans to pull out all U.S. troops by Sept. 11.

Critics of the decision to withdraw say the militants will now try to sweep back into power after their 2001 ouster at the hands of U.S.-led forces.

Security forces on Monday began their operations in areas close to Lashkar Gah, the provincial capital of southern Helmand province, in which 34 insurgents were killed, a statement from the provincial police chief's office said.

In northern Baghlan province, security forces killed 25 insurgents in the district of Baghlan Markazi, the defence ministry said in statement.

Areas close to the capitals of Helmand and Baghlan provinces were the scene of heavy fighting before the three-day ceasefire.

The Taliban did not comment on their casualties claimed by the Afghan government but said their insurgency had restarted.

Afghan security forces mounted an operation to recapture a Taliban-held district outside the capital Kabul on Wednesday last week just before the ceasefire but it failed due to Taliban resistance.

On Monday, security forces began their push to regain the strategic Nerth district of Wardak that lies less than an hour's drive from Kabul with officials warning that the Taliban will dig in if the district is not taken soon.

(Reporting by Kabul bureau; Editing by Nick Macfie)