Afghan security forces have recaptured Musa Qala in Helmand province with help from US airstrikes, days after Taliban insurgents seized the isolated district.
Located in the volatile southern heartlands of Afghanistan’s opium production and smuggling routes, Musa Qala had been protected by British and U.S. soldiers until their withdrawal late last year.
More than 20 British soldiers died in operations to recapture and hold Musa Qala in 2006, when the Taliban last overran the town.
Mr Najib Danish, a deputy Interior Ministry spokesman, confirmed that Afghan forces, assisted by multiple foreign airstrikes, reclaimed Musa Qala in the early hours of Sunday morning.
The Taliban had held Musa Qala for only four days, swarming the district center on Wednesday. For weeks prior local officials had pleaded for reinforcements, but claimed no help had been sent.
That changed quickly after Musa Qala’s capture. Soldiers who were part of NATO’s Resolute Support non-combat mission were quickly dispatched to advise Afghan special forces bolstering local efforts.
Col. Brian Tribus, an American military spokesman, also confirmed U.S. forces had carried out 18 airstrikes in the Musa Qala district since 22 August.
Mr Mirza Khan Rahimi, governor of Helmand, played down the impact of the US airstrikes to the Telegraph, saying that Afghan forces would have been sufficient on their own to wrest back control of Musa Qala.
Mr Rahimi claimed that up to 300 Taliban fighters had been killed or wounded in the operation. At least 33 Afghan security forces were killed or injured.
A clearing operation to rid the district of Taliban was still underway.
Musa Qala’s fall was a major propaganda coup for the Taliban. In an audio statement released shortly after its capture, the Taliban emphasised that British troops had once ploughed significant resources into protecting the small town.
The fight for Musa Qala is just one of many struggles for territory currently being played out across Afghanistan, as local security forces struggle to maintain control in the wake of the international military withdrawal.
Major battles between Afghanistan security forces and other insurgent groups are ongoing in at least 20 of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces.
In recent months, security resources have been stretched thin by concerted insurgent assaults in Afghanistan’s northern provinces.
Targeted assassinations have also claimed the lives of a number of prominent officials over the weekend, including the provincial council head of Uruzgan, a neighbouring province in the south.