SANGIN, Afghanistan, Officials on Sunday said Taliban forces captured all police and military installations in the Sangin district of southern Afghanistan’s Helmand province.
The BBC reported the militants captured a police headquarters in the center of Sangin and that fighting was occurring across the district.
Voice of America quoted Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid as saying the militants seized the administrative center of Sangin — and Afghan lawmaker Hashim Alokozai as saying the Taliban were in control of each of the district’s police and military installations.
Scores of retreating Afghan troops have reportedly been surrounded. Local media estimated their number to be around 150 and reported the troops, who retreated due to dwindling supplies, would perish unless air support arrived.
In a strongly-worded Facebook post directed at Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, the deputy governor of Helmand province on Sunday said Helmand was standing “on the brink” of complete capture and that 90 Afghan soldiers had been killed battling Taliban fighters in the Gereshk and Sangin districts over the past two days.
The Afghan government reportedly argued Helmand would not fall and denied the casualty figures.
VOA reported 60 Afghan soldiers were killed and another 70 defected to the Taliban during a previous militant assault into Sangin last month.
Afghan troops have been repeatedly tested by determined Taliban assaults throughout 2015 after NATO handed the official combat operation to local forces last year. The militants have seized multiple districts and cities but have been unable to hold them in the face of counter-attacks by Afghan security forces backed by U.S. airstrikes — as was the case in the Musa Qala district of Helmand province in Augustand the northern city of Kunduz in October.
More recently, more than 46 people were killed when heavily-armed Taliban militants, some wearing suicide vests, stormed the Kandahar International Airportearlier this month.
By Fred Lambert