Afghan forces clash with Taliban in the south
Smoke rises from an attack in the Sangin district of the Helmand province. (AFP/File)
In the long-running battle for the Afghan district of Sangin, very few things appear certain, least of all that government and allied forces can push back a resurgent Taliban in the southern region.
Over the past six months the Taliban have gradually taken control of all but three districts in Helmand province, with Sangin one of most fiercely fought-over districts in the whole country.
Clashes reignited a few days ago in the flashpoint district, and government forces are said to be holding onto only a thread of territory.
"Fierce fighting amongst Taliban and Afghan forces has forced residents of central Sangin district to leave the area," said Razia Baluch, a provincial council member from Helmand province.
"All shops and markets are closed. The residents of Sangin are unable to provide food for their families," said Abdul Majid Akhunzada, another council member.
Afghan authorities in Helmand state that "the situation is under control," however, it seems far from that according to local officials.
"Afghan forces are surrounded by the Taliban in one of their Sangin bases. They [Afghan forces] haven't received any assistance in the last 10 days," said Akhunzada.
"All roads are blocked to the district and the government can't supply Afghan forces in the area," he said.
Afghan forces only control two bases in Sangin district, and the rest of the district is controlled by the Taliban, Akhunzada and Baluch both said Tuesday.
Government and senior provincial officials paint a more optimistic picture of the state of the battle.
"We have supplied our forces in Sangin, Musa Qala and Nad Ali districts as early as yesterday [Monday]. If ground supply routes are impassable, we supply our troops by air," said General Mohammad Radmanish, a deputy spokesman for the Ministry of Defence.
Amar Zwak, a spokesperson for the governor of Helmand, also said that the supply routes to Sangin are open.
Afghan troops may also be about to get a boost from international forces.
Hundreds of additional US troops are slated to deploy to Helmand by the end of the month, according British newspaper The Guardian on Tuesday.
The "battalion-strength" force will have a tough task in a hostile region. Beyond Sangin, large areas of neighbouring Nahr-e Saraj district are controlled by the Taliban with the militants closing in on the district centre. Taliban also control Babaji, a district within the provincial capital of Lashkargah.
There is no reliable information about the number of casualties on either side.
Razia Baluch, a provincial council member who is originally from Nahr-e Saraj district, says distrust of the authorities is bolstering support for the Taliban, making the Afghan forces' mission even harder.
"Corruption in government ranks has left people no choice but to support the militants," she said.
"The situation is critical and the government is not doing anything to change it."
By Mohammad Jawad and Hakim Mukhtar