Sixty-five Afghan soldiers and several of their officers laid down their weapons two days ago and surrendered to the Taliban in the embattled district of Sangin in the southern province of Helmand. Some reports suggested that the Afghan troops defected to the Taliban, but the jihadist group has indicated that the troops merely laid down their arms.
The Afghan company’s surrender was confirmed by both Afghan officials and the Taliban. Helmand governor Mirza Rahimi told reporters that “65 Afghan security force members including three commanders surrendered in Sangin district,” TOLONews reported. Oddly enough, he stated that “the situation is under control in the district.”
The Taliban reported yesterday that “5 commander [sic] and 65 ANA [Afghan National Army] trooper [sic] from an outpost located in Station area repented their mistakes and surrendered to Mujahideen on Thursday at around 05:00 am local time.”
The Afghan soldiers handed over “5 APCs, 3 mortar tubes, 2 SPG9 artillery pieces, 18 US machine guns, 50 US rifles and a large amount of ammunition and other equipment,” the Taliban reported on its official website, Voice of Jihad.
The Taliban apparently had laid siege to the base for two weeks before the Afghan soldiers abdicated. A mother of one of the soldiers claimed the base was under attack for 15 days before the soldiers quit the fight, and that the Afghan military and police did not intervene to save them.
Afghanistan’s Ministry of Defense has denied that its soldiers in Sangin surrendered to the Taliban. “Our troops will never surrender to the enemy,” the ministry’s spokesman said to TOLONews.”There might be some problems. This is war. Moving forward and backwards, defending and leaving strongholds can happen in war and they are allowed to do this.”
Sangin is one of several districts in Helmand that are hotly contested. The Taliban has released numerous statements about the fighting there, and just yesterday claimed to have overrun “2 more check posts … located near the old hospital and Eid Gah area of the district bazaar.”
In Helmand, the Taliban controls or contests six of the province’s 13 districts, according to data compiled by The Long War Journal. All of the districts due north of the provincial capital of Laskhar Gah — Sangin, Baghran, Musa Qala, Kajaki, and Now Zad — are controlled or heavily contested by the jihadist group. The Taliban uses these districts to assemble its forces and assault Lashkar Gah and neighboring districts. Taliban forces are currently positioned in Marja and Babaji, just miles from Lashkar Gah.
If Lashkar Gah falls to the Taliban, it would be the second city to do so this year. Kunduz fell under Taliban control for two weeks before the jihadist forces were driven from the city. Lashkar Gah is not the only provincial capital facing a direct threat. One month ago, the Taliban pressed an offensive to take control of Ghazni city but failed to do so; Taliban forces remain on the outskirts of the city. Additionally, Tarin Kot, the capital of Uruzgan province, which borders Helmand to the north, is also imperiled. Four of the six districts in Uruzgan are heavily contested by the Taliban.
The situation in southern Afghanistan has deteriorated since the US military began withdrawing its forces beginning in 2012. Jihadist groups have become emboldened as Afghan forces have been unable to prevent the return of the Taliban. Al Qaeda was so confident that it established two training camps, one of them extending for 30 square miles, in Kandahar’s Shorabak district. The US military destroyed the camps during a four-day assault in October.