Afghan government forces are holding out against a sustained onslaught in Sangin with the help of national and international reinforcements.
Though the militants control the vast majority of the district, located in northern Helmand province, the main security buildings in Sangin are under government control, several sources told the Guardian on Wednesday afternoon.
Sulaiman Shah, the district governor of Sangin, said government forces had been trying for the past two days to send reinforcements from Shorabak military base, about 50 miles from Sangin, but had been prevented by the . Two Afghan national army tanks had been hit by improvised explosive devices and another had been hit by a rocket-propelled grenade, and so had turned back, Shah said.
However, an airstrike at about 3pm on Tuesday afternoon allowed – including troops, food, weapons and ammunition – to reach Sangin. Nato said that they had not conducted any airstrikes in Sangin but the Afghan air force probably had.
Sangin residents also denied that the district had at any stage fallen to the Taliban.
“I was here and I’m still here,” said Shamsullah Sahrayee, a tribal elder in Sangin. He confirmed that the central compound, which houses intelligence and police headquarters and the district governor’s building, was still under government control, as were the two main Afghan army bases to the east and south of the compound. The district governor, meanwhile, was evacuated in a helicopter on Wednesday morning to Camp Shorabak along with the dead bodies of 8 security forces and 15 injured personnel.
Though Sangin has limited strategic importance, it holds symbolic value for the international troops who fought in Helmand. More than 100 British soldiers died in Sangin.
A unit of British soldiers is now based at Camp Shorabak, though they are “fewer than 20”, according to Col Michael Lawhorn, spokesman for the international forces in .
A small unit of Danish soldiers, who for years fought in Helmand alongside the British and Americans, have also arrived at the former Camp Bastion, Col Jens Lønborg from the Danish army told Danish newspaper Politiken. However, he added that the Danes would not be engaged in combat and would not leave the base.
Lawhorn also said he was not aware of US or other foreign forces assisting the Afghan counter-terrorism mission, as they did when the northern Afghan city of Kunduz fell temporarily in late September.