As fighting in the Sangin district of southern Helmand province continues, Afghan army and police forces arrived to help security forces pinned down for days in the besieged area, and defence minister Masoom Stanekzai appealed for stepped-up Nato assistance and military support.
Speaking to reporters in the capital, Kabul, Mr Stanekzai said the country’s overstretched security forces need the international military coalition’s help, especially air support, which would help reduce casualties.
Sangin is an important poppy-growing district in Helmand, which borders Pakistan and sits on transport routes for drugs, arms and other lucrative contraband.
The Taliban, whose intensified war against Afghan forces has not slowed down with the colder season, have been besieging it for days and have nearly completely run over the district.
“The Helmand battle is not easy because the province has a long border, is a core of opium production, and our enemies are well-equipped and deeply involved in the smuggling of drugs,” Mr Stanekzai said. “These factors complicate the battle for Sangin.”
By mid-afternoon on Wednesday, the Taliban spokesman for southern Afghanistan, Qari Yousaf Ahmadi, tweeted that “Sangin district has completely collapsed to the Taliban”.
The insurgents are prone to exaggerating its battlefield successes, and Kabul officials denied Sangin has fallen.
However, Helmand’s deputy governor Mohammad Jan Rasulyar said all lines of communication with Sangin have been cut.
Britain has sent a small contingent of soldiers to Helmand as advisers under the new Nato mandate to train the Afghan forces.
The US and Nato have around 13,000 troops in the country, most of them operating under the training mandate.