Afghan forces fight to push back Taliban in Helmand

Afghan bag factory helps disabled workers find hope
Afghan bag factory helps disabled workers find hope

Afghan forces continued their battle to push back the Taliban in Helmand province in southern Afghanistan on Friday.

Fierce fighting has been underway across much of Helmand for months, a traditional stronghold of the Taliban and a major centre for opium that U.S. and British troops fought for years to control.

At least four districts in Helmand have slipped into Taliban control, badly denting hopes that Afghan security forces would be able to fight on alone after international forces pulled out last year.

Government forces have complained bitterly of inadequate supplies and reinforcements and little of the air power that backed up NATO forces when they fought in the region.

There have been widespread reports of desertion by Afghan troops after months of fighting, leadership confusion and a lack of coordination between army and police units.

“The Taliban hide themselves in civilians’ houses during the night and then attack Afghan forces during the day. Sometimes we have to wait for command, because until we receive command we cannot launch operations against them,” said Afghan army soldeir Delawar Khan.

Months of fighting also disrupted life of local people.

“As the fighting continues here we are not able to do farming. When there is no fighting here then we can enjoy living and working on our farmlands,” said Hameed Ullah, a local farmer.

The crisis in Helmand has piled pressure on the government of President Ashraf Ghani, which was rocked by the fall of the northern city of Kunduz, seized by Taliban fighters in late September and held for several days.

Alarmed by the Taliban advances, Britain has sent extra personnel to NATO’s Resolute Support advisory mission in Helmand in a bid to help struggling local forces.

Officials have not confirmed reports that special forces are present and they insist that the mission is there to advise and will not take part in combat operations. But at least two air strikes have been carried out this week.

Afghan commanders have repeatedly pleaded for more helicopters, and close air support and intelligence from surveillance aircraft – battlefield assets referred to in military jargon as “enablers”.

Helmand is not the only province where the Taliban have made gains. On Wednesday (December 23), a spokesman said insurgents had captured the district of Gulistan in Farah, a remote western province that, like Helmand, is a major centre of opium cultivation.

District governor Asif Nang rejected the claim as “baseless”. He said the district governor’s headquarters, very often the final outpost standing when districts are considered to have been captured, had simply been relocated.

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