Afghan National Army soldiers patrol in Helmand on Monday. Much of the town of Sangin has been taken over by Taliban forces.
Afghan army soldiers patrol in Helmand on Monday. Much of the town of Sangin has been taken over by Taliban forces. Photograph: Noor Mohammad/AFP/Getty Images

Ammunition, military equipment and food is being airdropped to besieged Afghan forces battling to prevent the complete fall of Sangin, in Helmand province, according to government officials in Kabul.

Three days after a Taliban assault, Sangin’s residents said all the town had been overrun except the governor’s headquarters and a police compound. The Talibanare reported to be wandering around the town calling for total surrender.

Sangin is totemic for both British and US forces, with both having suffered high death toll there. Its loss would be a psychological blow as well as providing the Taliban with an important base.

The UK sent a modest contingent of British troops to Helmand at the weekend to help bolster overstretched Afghan forces. The 10 British troops, part of a 300-strong Nato force, are based at Camp Shorabak , about 50 miles from Sangin. Britain’s Ministry of Defence said they would remain inside the camp providing advice and infantry training and would not be involved in combat.

Although the number of British troops is tiny, it is hugely symbolic: a return to the province 14 months after they pulled down their flag.

Information from inside Sangin is scarce but Bilal Sarwary, a freelance journalist,tweeted tribal elders as saying the Taliban have announced a ceasefire until this evening and are calling on the police through loudspeakers to surrender.

Sarwary also said sources in Sangin had told him the Taliban shot dead an Afghan police commander, another policeman and two intelligence service personnel in their homes.

The US has had special forces operating in Helmand for several months in support of Afghan forces trying to retake Sangin. A US military source suggested that a British SAS unit was working alongside them.

The MoD said it never comments on the deployment of special forces. The BBC said it understood that the reports of SAS involvement in Helmand were incorrect.

An MoD spokeswoman said: “As part of the UK’s ongoing contribution to Nato’s Resolute Support mission, a small number of UK personnel have deployed to Camp Shorabak in Helmand province in an advisory role. These personnel are part of a larger Nato team which is providing advice to the Afghan national army. They are not deployed in a combat role and will not deploy outside the camp.”

The battle for Sangin came as a Taliban suicide bomber killed six American Nato soldiers near Bagram airbase, north of Kabul. It was the most deadly attack on Nato troops since August.

The Taliban occupation of Sangin rekindled controversy over the British deployment to Helmand. Sangin became a symbol of British miscalculation, with questions raised about the strategic value of holding the town, given its remoteness and its position as a key junction in a major poppy-producing area. More than 100 British troops were killed.

An Afghan defence ministry spokesman, Dawlat Waziri, told reporters that reinforcements, including commandos and special forces, had been sent and that the Afghan air force had conducted 160 combat transport flights over Sangin in the previous 48 hours.

Mohammad Jan Rasoolyar , Helmand’s deputy governor, said insurgents had taken control of all of Sangin other than Afghan army posts. Casualties among the Afghan security forces were high, he added.

Earlier, he made a plea to the Afghan president, Ashraf Ghani , on Facebook.

“I know that bringing up this issue on social media will make you very angry,” Rasoolyar wrote. “But … Helmand stands on the brink. Ninety men have been killed in Gereshk and Sangin districts in the last two days.”

Government officials contradicted each other about events on the ground. Javid Faisal, spokesman for the Afghan chief executive, Abdullah Abdullah , denied on Twitter that Sangin had been captured but later deleted the tweet.

In a media conference on Monday morning, Helmand’s governor said the main security buildings in Sangin were under government control, as did an Afghan army spokesman.

Meanwhile, Nargis Rokhshani, a local provincial council member, warned that the entire province was in danger of falling to the Taliban.

“If the British and American forces do not help, and the government does not think about Helmand, Helmand will be in danger,” she said.

As well as the six Nato troops killed in the attack at Bagram airbase, three others were wounded, according to a Nato spokesman in Kabul, US army brigadier general Wilson Shoffner .

Mohammad Asim Asim , governor of Parwan province, where Bagram is located, said that a suicide bomber rammed an explosives-laden motorcycle into a combined Nato-Afghan foot patrol as it moved through a village close to the base, about 30 miles (50km) north of Kabul.

The Pentagon, in a report published last week, acknowledged the strength of the Taliban and warned the security situation would deteriorate further.

Barack Obama had planned to pull most of the remaining 9,500 US troops in Afghanistan out, but reversed this in October in the face of Taliban advances, in particular their temporary occupation of Kunduz in the north.

UK operations in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya have left the British public sceptical about the value of military interventions, according to polls. The issue of theAfghanistan operation remains raw, with questions raised about British troops being sent under-equipped and under-resourced into a Taliban stronghold.

But former major general Jonathan Shaw , of the Parachute Regiment, said the problem British forces faced in Helmand was deeper than just equipment or resources.

“I think it shows the limitations of military intervention,” Shaw said. He said it was part of the bigger question about deposing dictators without necessarily knowing who was going to replace them.

He was not surprised to see the Taliban expanding since the Nato withdrawal.

“What is the long-term plan? We’ve got the clocks; they have got the time. Anything we impose is transient,” Shaw said.

He suggested too much had been asked of the British force. “We probably expected a bit much of them. The fault was in the expectation,” he said.

Sir William Patey, a former British ambassador to Afghanistan, said the government in Kabul would always struggle to control badlands like Helmand province. But it should be seen in pespective. “Kandahar is iconic. If they were to lose Kandahar, that would be a serious blow. Helmand is more marginal to the government in Kabul.”

Sangin was important because of a power station and a dam but it had never really been in hands of the Kabul government, he said, and it had been a tough proposition for British forces. “It was always going to be a tall order given its remoteness.”

Patey added: “It was always an optimistic hope that once the coalition had pulled out that Afghanistan forces could hold on to everything.”

[Source:- the gurdian]

By Adam