In Brief

Reinforcements arrive to relieve Taliban siege of Sangin

Fresh troops set to drive out militants – but Afghan army is increasingly overstretched

Reinforcements have arrived to relieve besieged Afghan troops pinned down by the Taliban in a contested town in Helmand province, the local governor has said.

Sangin was attacked by Taliban militants three days ago. Locals report that the insurgents are currently in control of most of the town, including key government buildings.

With a small number of security forces personnel holed up in the town's police station on Tuesday, a source pleaded with the government to send immediate help. "If Kabul or the Helmand governor don't send support, we will all be killed, or we should join the Taliban," the unnamed source told the Associated Press. "We don't have anything to eat or fight with."

Today, deputy governor of the Helmand district Mohammad Jan Rasoulyar told the BBC that fresh troops had been sent to the town, vowing that government forces were "now taking the fight to the Taliban". He also said that air drops containing much-needed food and ammunition have been successfully delivered to government positions in Sangin.

A resurgence of the Taliban has seen conflict break out in the north, east and south of the country this year, with the underfunded and overstretched Afghan army struggling to put down the Islamist group. Muhammad Kareem Atal, the head of Helmand's provincial council, told the BBC that 2,000 members of the Afghan security forces have been killed in the province this year.

Helmand has long been a hotspot of Taliban insurgency due to its proximity to Pakistan and its valuable poppy fields. More than 100 British soldiers lost their lives in or around Sangin between 2006 and the UK's withdrawal in 2014, almost a quarter of the total killed in Afghanistan.

Yesterday, it was revealed by The Times that a small number of British SAS troops have been sent to Helmand, joining members of the US special forces in a Nato taskforce designed to aid the Afghan national army. The MoD stressed that the role was merely "advisory" and would not involve any British soldiers engaging in combat.

British troops back in Helmand to counter Taliban advance

22 December

The British and American government are once again putting boots on the ground in Afghanistan's notorious Helmand province as the Afghan army struggles to contain a resurgent Taliban.

The Times reports that around 30 SAS troops have been deployed to Sangin to help the national army as part of a Nato taskforce, along with 60 members of the American special forces.

More than 100 British soldiers lost their lives between 2006 and 2010 in the battle for control of Sangin, and it is now once again a scene of conflict. The Taliban, who have been gaining ground in Helmand for months, are now close to overrunning the town, the Telegraph reports.

Afghan national army soldiers are now holding out from inside Sangin's besieged police station after militants seized other government buildings. They report desperate conditions in the contested town, with ammunition and food supplies running low.

However, the Ministry of Defence stressed that the presence of British troops in Helmand did not signal a return to a combat role for the UK. "These personnel are part of a larger Nato team which is providing advice to the Afghan National Army," an MoD spokeswoman said. "They are not deployed in a combat role and will not deploy outside the camp."

Another 300 British troops from the regular army have been sent to Camp Bastion in the south of Afghanistan, The Times revealed, as advisors to the undertrained and undersupplied Afghan army. The county's stability has been deteriorating at an alarming rate as national armed forces struggle to counter the Taliban following Nato's withdrawal last year.

All but two of Helmand's 14 districts are now controlled or contested by the Taliban, who have also taken ground in other areas of the country. The worsening security situation has moved US president Barack Obama to renege on his pledge to withdraw US troops before he leaves office. US forces, who number around 5,500, will now remain stationed in Afghanistan until at least 2017.

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