Afghan officials say Helmand is in state control

Afghanistan officials say many Taliban militants killed by Afghan forces in overnight battle in Sangin district of Helmand province

Photo by: Reuters
Photo by: Reuters

An Afghan National Army (ANA) soldiers drive at an outpost in Helmand province, December 20, 2015.

Afghan officials announced on Thursday that the strategically important district in the southern Afghan province of Helmand, Sangin, is under government control after the United States launched two air strikes at overnight on Taliban positions after they besieged the region more than a week.

A police commander in Sangin, Akhtar Muhammad, said that clashes continue after the Taliban captured the area around the district governor's compound overnight, but were pushed back.

"An hour later we recaptured that building and now we have it," Muhammad told the Associated Press.

The US Army Colonel Mike Lawhorn and spokesman for the NATO mission in Afghanistan said that the US conducted two air strikes “in the vicinity of Sangin.”

Afghan security forces complained about being left without adequate supplies and reinforcements as well as with no air support by NATO forces.

NATO officials say that the troops sent to Helmand are not taking a direct part in battle.

Guam Rasoul Zazai, the spokesman for the Afghan army in Helmand said that Afghan military air strikes also hit Taliban positions in Sangin by killing 25 militants and wounded 12.

Zazai also said that operations slowed after Taliban militants began taking shelter in civilian homes.

"Last night fresh forces arrived, they provided ammunitions and food to forces at the battalion and launched a counterattack," Helmand senator Hashim Alokozai said.

"They recaptured the district and police HQ and the wounded were evacuated. We hope they will make further progress today."

A Taliban militant claimed that they had the district under their control but this was widely refuted as the Taliban is known to regularly exaggerate battlefield gains.

Sangin is strategically important for the Taliban where they sit on key position on smuggling routes for drugs, arms and other contrabands which fund the insurgency.

Taliban militants have been fighting for control of Sangin since the end of November.

The battle had intensified a week ago when government reinforcements failed to arrive and Afghan security forces were pinned down inside the army base.

Afghan acting Defence Minister Masoom Stanekzai told reporters that reinforcements arrived on Wednesday afternoon.

"The military is in position and the operation is ongoing," Stanekzai told a news conference in Kabul.

"Taliban rumors that they have captured the district are not true," said a tribal leader in Sangin who is also director of the Sangin District Council adding that he was trapped in the base for three days before government forces arrived.

The Helmand crisis has piled pressure on President Ashraf Ghani after the fall of the northern city of Kunduz in September, which the Taliban took control of for couple of days.

TRTWorld and agencies