The Taliban has overrun and captured Musa Qala in Helmand province, an opium-rich district centre once protected by British soldiers, in yet another sign that Afghan security forces are struggling to contain the insurgents’ growing power.
British and US forces led the fight against the Taliban in Musa Qala for several years prior to their withdrawal from Helmand in October last year. More than 20 British soldiers died to protect the desolate town, located in Afghanistan’s volatile south.
According to Musa Qala’s governor Mohammad Sharif, Taliban fighters had ominously circled the district centre for the past five days. Mr Sharif said he plead for help from the Afghan government, but no assistance was dispatched.
At around 11pm on Tuesday night, “more than 100 Taliban fighters attacked," Mr Sharif told the Telegraph. "No one supported us." Local forces were quickly overwhelmed and forced Mr Sharif and other residents to flee, he said.
The head of Helmand’s provincial council Haji Mohammad Karem Atal confirmed by telephone that at least 25 Afghan army soldiers and police died in the assault and more than 40 were injured.
The Taliban have reportedly since occupied the district governor’s compound, the hospital, and the local police station.
According to provincial officials, all contact with the Musa Qala district centre has been cut off, and it has been impossible to confirm the safety of residents left behind.
Sharif said he and dozens of others were currently crossing the desert to make their way to Gereshk, a town south of Musa Qala. He claimed the Taliban were still in pursuit of the group and he feared for their safety.
The Taliban have been threatening Musa Qala and neighbouring districts in past months, emboldened by the drawdown of NATO troops, who maintain only a small number of coalition forces in Helmand’s capital, Lashkar Gar.
On Wednesday, two of those NATO troops were shot and killed on an Afghan military compound in Helmand by two gunmen wearing Afghan security forces uniforms. Their nationalities have not yet been identified.
Afghan officials across Helmand have been regularly calling for more assistance in past weeks, warning they are ill-equipped and lack the manpower to deal with the Taliban’s constant attacks in the embattled province.
On the run somewhere between Musa Qala and Gereshk, Mr Sharif once again implored for help. “Lashkar Gar [Helmand’s capital] is now under threat,” he said. “Now that they have Musa Qala, the floodgates will be open.”