Taliban takes key Sangin locations as British troops deployed to help Afghan forces | World news | The Guardian22 Dicembre 2015
Afghan National 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
theguardian.com – Taliban takes key Sangin locations as British troops deployed to help Afghan forces Ministry of Defence says British soldiers not taking any combat role, amid reports that SAS and US special forces deployed to help retake lost ground in Helmand. – Sune Engel RasmussenEwen MacAskillThe Afghanistan
in Kabul and government has suffered a serious setback after a Taliban offensive succeeded in taking control of much of Sangin, the Helmand town that became totemic for British forces, accounting for a third of their casualties.
The fall of key locations in and around the town on Sunday and Monday comes just a year after Nato pulled combat troops out of Afghanistan. Since then the Taliban has made inroads in Helmand and elsewhere around the country.
The Ministry of Defence said British troops have been deployed to help local forces, but would not take any combat role and would only provide advisory support.
The MoD refused to comment on any operations involving the SAS. A 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 Taliban stormed the police headquarters, the administrative headquarters, the intelligence agency office and other offices in Sangin. But Afghan officials said their forces, including the air force, were battling to regain control.
The battle for Sangin came as Taliban suicide bomber killed six American Nato soldiers at Bagram airport, near 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 for 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 said.
Earlier, Rasoolyar resorted to Facebook to make a plea to the Afghan president, Ashraf Ghani.
“I know that bringing up this issue on social media will make you very angry,” Rasoolyar wrote on Facebook. “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 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 airport, three others were wounded, according to a Nato spokesman in Kabul, US army brigadier-general William Schoffner.
Mohammad Asim Asim, governor of Parwan province, where Bagram is located, said that a suicide bomber rammed an explosives-laden motorcycle into the combined NATO-Afghan foot patrol as it moved through a village close to the base, about 50km (30 miles) 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 but reversed this in October in the face of Taliban advances, in particular its 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 Afghanistan 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 knocking off 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.”
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.”