SANGIN, Afghanistan, An Afghan army commander says the Taliban are once again on the verge of overrunning the Sangin district of southern Afghanistan’s Helmand province.
The BBC quoted the commander, who spoke on condition of anonymity, as saying the Taliban now control a majority of the district and have in recent days attacked the remaining government-controlled positions, killing dozens of Afghan military personnel.
The commander reportedly said eight soldiers were killed and nine captured at a base known as “Sahra Yak,” which fell late last week. The militants confiscated ammunition and weapons, including an armored vehicle, and are now threatening two other bases that “will have the same fate” if not given the proper support.
“It is the fourth day that one dead body is with us, and four wounded in the past week,” he said. “It is the tenth day that we eat only dry bread, borrowing it from the local police.”
Afghan military officials have downplayed the Taliban assault in Sangin, saying the district is secure despite admitting the presence of jihadists.
Sangin nearly fell in December to a Taliban assault that was stalled by reinforcements from Kabul, including Afghan special forces and British troops acting as advisers.
At the time, the deputy governor of Helmand province wrote a Facebook post to Afghan President Ashraf Ghani saying Helmand was standing “on the brink” of complete capture.
Brig. Gen. Dawlat Waziri, a senior spokesman for the Afghan Defense Ministry, insisted the province would “absolutely not fall to the Taliban.”
“We do confirm there have been casualties and there may be some tactical problems, but we are inflicting heavy casualties on the Taliban, and the area will be cleared soon,” the Washington Post quoted him as saying.
Afghan security forces last year experienced a sharp increase in casualties after NATO forces passed the combat mission to local police and military units at the end of 2014.
The Taliban launched a series of high-profile attacks in places such as the northern city of Kunduz and the Kandahar airport. In August, the Taliban captured the Musa Qala district of Helmand but lost it to a government counter-attack that was supported by U.S. airstrikes.
An estimated 16,000 members of Afghanistan’s army and police were killed in 2015 — up from 12,500 the year before.
The situation in Sangin comes one day after officials from Pakistan, Afghanistan, China and the United States launched a third round of talks aimed at charting a path toward peace talks between the Taliban and Kabul.
By Fred Lambert