The Taliban overran a strategic district in Helmand the same day the deputy governor warned that the southern Afghan province was in danger of collapsing. Sangin District fell to the Taliban despite the involvement of US and British special operations forces as well as US air support in the province.
Afghan officials confirmed that the Taliban overran the Sangin district center and seized control of all of its administrative buildings and the police headquarters over the past 24 hours, Pajhwok Afghan News reported. An estimated 150 Afghan policemen retreated from the district center to a different area and remained surrounded by the Taliban. A member of Afghanistan’s parliament told the news agency that all police and military bases in Sangin are now under the Taliban’s control.
The Taliban has targeted Sangin for takeover since mid-2014. By August 2014, the situation in the district had deteriorated so dramatically that the Afghan military was negotiating with the Taliban to avoid being ejected from its administrative center. Last month, 65 Afghan soldiers and several of their officers in Sangin laid down their weapons and surrendered to the Taliban after their outpost was besieged for weeks without receiving reinforcements or supplies.
The Taliban seized control of Sangin the same day that Mohammad Jan Rasulyar, Helmand’s deputy governor, issued a plea for President Ashraf Ghani to take immediate action in the province. Rasulyar made his dramatic statement in a post on Facebook.
“Your Excellency, Helmand is standing on the brink and there is a serious need for you to come,” Rasulyar wrote, according to Reuters.
Rasulyar also issued a scathing indictment of the Afghan government, the military, and the international coalition, all of which have failed to support Helmand’s troops and policemen in the field.
“We don’t provide food and ammunition to our forces on time, do not evacuate our wounded and martyred soldiers from the battle field, and foreign forces only watch the situation from their bases and don’t provide support,” he wrote.
Rasulyar claimed 44 soldiers and policemen were killed in the fighting in Sangin, and another 90 were killed during recent fighting in Gereshk, a town in Nahr-i-Sarraj district that is in danger of falling to the Taliban. He explained that such high casualties are commonplace.
The fall of Sangin took place just days after the Afghan government said it retook the district of Khanashin in southern Helmand. But the Taliban denied that the government has regained control of Khanashin.
“The enemy claims of causing huge casualties to Mujahideen and retaking large swaths of land is baseless propaganda merely aimed at raising the spirits of their fighters and receiving cash rewards from their masters,” the Taliban said in a statement released on Voice of Jihad. The Taliban reported that heavy fighting was ongoing in the district.
The Afghan jihadist group has continued to press its offensive in Helmand to regain the ground lost between 2009-2011, during the US-led “surge.” Of Helmand’s 13 districts, five are known to be controlled by the Taliban (Nowzad, Musa Qala, Baghran, Dishu, and Sangin), and another five are heavily contested (Nahr-i-Sarraj, Kajaki, Nad Ali, Garmsir and Khanashin). Of the remaining three districts, The Long War Journal believes two (Washir and Nawa-i-Barak) are contested, but the situation is unclear. Only Lashkar Gah, the district that hosts the provincial capital, has not seen significant Taliban activity.
The Taliban now controls 40 districts in Afghanistan and contests another 39, according to data compiled by The Long War Journal. These numbers may be low given the methodology used to assess control and contested districts. [See map above and from The New York Times.]
The situation in southern Afghanistan has deteriorated since the US military began withdrawing its forces beginning in 2012. Afghan forces have been unable to prevent the return of the Taliban in many areas. Al Qaeda was so emboldened by the withdrawal that it established two training camps in Kandahar’s Shorabak district. One of the two camps was nearly 30 square miles in size. The US military destroyed the camps during a four-day assault in October.