Afghanistan’s government has said reinforcements are arriving to help the army hold back a Taliban assault on the town of Sangin as Britain announced it was sending troops to Helmand province for the first time in 14 months because of the situation there.
The announcements came after a Taliban suicide bomber in the deadliest single attack on American troops in the country since 2013.
The Afghan army has been battling to maintain control of the . The UK Ministry of Defence said late on Monday that “a small number of UK personnel” were being sent to Helmand in “an advisory role”. The UK has 450 troops in Afghanistan as part of Nato’s training mission.
The Helmand deputy provincial governor, Mohammad Jan Rasoulyar, said military planes had dropped supplies to troops in Sangin and the army was “taking the fight to the Taliban”, . The Taliban earlier boasted that they were nearly in control and said the government would soon announce its defeat in the town.
On Tuesday a third day of fighting between Afghan forces and the ended with the insurgents in control of large swaths of Sangin, according to local residents.
A Sangin police source said the Taliban had taken the entire centre except for the police building, which had been under attack from about 50 to 60 Taliban fighters each day.
Sangin has for years been the scene of fierce fighting between the Taliban and Nato forces, and sits at the juncture in the biggest poppy-growing region in the world. It holds significance for British and US troops, with both having suffered high death tolls there. Its loss would be a psychological blow as well as providing the Taliban with an important base.
The UK confirmed on Monday that the modest contingent of British military advisers sent to Helmand would support the overstretched forces. The 10 British troops, part of a 300-strong Nato force, are based at Camp Shorabak, about 50 miles (80km) from Sangin. The MoD said they would remain inside the camp providing advice and infantry training and would not be involved in combat.
Security has worsened across the country as the Taliban test the mettle of Afghan security forces following the end of the international combat mission in 2014.
While they do not typically hold any territory they win for more than a few hours or days, the Taliban have dented the confidence of the overstretched Afghan forces, who are fighting the insurgency almost alone for the first time. Officials have said casualties, as well as attrition and desertion, have taken a toll on numbers of government forces, while the Taliban strength seems never to diminish.