Afghan forces lose ground in Helmand province

Security forces retreat from strategic district in Helmand province after Taliban captures military outposts while US drones continue to strike militants

Photo by: AFP
Photo by: AFP

Afghan security forces retreated from a key district in Helmand province on Tuesday after days of heavy fighting with Taliban militants who captured military outposts last week.

Afghan officials described the move to protect civilians from increased attacks in Naw Zad District as "tactical," adding that they moved the governor's office to a safer location after the Taliban occupied the compound and the surrounding area.

"The previous compound was surrounded by civilian homes and civilians could be harmed during Taliban attacks," Omar Zwak, a spokesman for the governor of Helmand, told Reuters.

Afghan forces and Taliban militants have been fighting in different parts of the southern province of Helmand and the fighting has intensified around Naw Zad in recent months, which experienced some of the heaviest battles between British and US forces and the Taliban before they withdrew.

The Taliban controls Baghran District next to Naw Zad, which the group captured in July, the day after reports emerged confirming Taliban leader Mullah Omar's death. However, they lost control of the area in August.

The Taliban has intensified attacks after it lost the district and its spokesman Qari Yousuf Ahmad said it has pushed "thousands of police and army forces" out of the area.

"We have control of the district," he said in statement quoted by Reuters.

The Taliban released a video of the fighting in July in the district on Aug. 10 named “Liberation of Now Zad.” In the video fighters were shown attacking a hilltop base and occupying several military and police outposts and raising the Taliban's white banner over the outposts. Helicopters and fighter jets were heard while the militants were seen driving in an armoured US Humvee truck.

The bodies of dozens of dead soldiers also appear in the video, confirming the Taliban's claim that it killed more than 40 soldiers and police during the attack. It ends by showing militants pledging allegiance to the new Taliban leader Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Mansour.

Meanwhile, US drone strikes continue to target Taliban militants in Afghanistan. The latest drone strike killed at least seven suspected militants, including two commanders on Tuesday, in central Wardak province, Afghan officials said.

The number of drone strikes against suspected militants has increased since foreign combat troops withdrew from Afghanistan at the end of 2014. US drone strikes and civilian casualties have been a controversial issue in Afghanistan, where hundreds of people have died due to the strikes.

The Afghan Taliban emerged during the Soviet War in Afghanistan in the 80s among many “mujahideen” factions and ruled the majority of Afghanistan before being toppled by the US in 2001. It currently has up to 60,000 fighters, according to the Council on Foreign Relations.


TRTWorld and agencies