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Reinforcements backing Afghan troops in battle for Sangin

The theatre of heavy fighting with the Taliban in the last few days with Afghan government, USA and United Kingdom troops in Helmand province, Sangin district is now firmly in Kabul’s hands say local officials.

Afghan security forces have launched their latest offensive in the Sangin district, where the Taliban are largely in control, police said Thursday.

Captain Beattie, who was awarded the Military Cross for his bravery in Afghanistan, said unless Britain stepped in and helped the Afghans then the country would be a “failure”.

Sangin is an important prize for the Taliban as it sits on crucial smuggling routes for drugs, arms and other contraband which fund the insurgency. Before that, British and American forces struggled for years to hold on to Sangin.

“An hour later we recaptured that building and now we have it”, he told The Associated Press.

While President Barack Obama has conceded that 9,800 U.S. troops will have to remain in Afghanistan throughout 2016, funding for the Afghan government will be cut by $400m (£270m) next year.

Despite billions of dollars in aid and thousands of deaths among global forces, the capacity of Afghan security forces to stand alone has been called into question by the Helmand fighting as well as by earlier episodes such as the fall of Kunduz, which the Taliban captured briefly in September.

And on Wednesday, the Taliban claimed to have captured the district of Gulistan in Farah, a remote western province, but governer Asif Nang said the claim was “baseless”.

The US conducted two air strikes “in the vicinity of Sangin”, according to a spokesman for the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation mission in Afghanistan, US Army Colonel Mike Lawhorn.

Britain on Tuesday said a small contingent of its troops had arrived in Camp Shorabak, the largest British base in Afghanistan, before it was handed over to Afghan forces past year.

The troops, the British Ministry of Defence said in a statement, were “part of the UK’s ongoing contribution to NATO’s Resolute Support Mission”, the training, advisory, assistance and counterterror mission in Afghanistan.

Combined with the USA airstrikes and the presence of US special forces soldiers, who have been on the ground in Helmand for at least a week, Afghan officials were confident that the army would be able to win back ground in Sangin and other Helmand districts that the insurgents have seized in recent months.

Helmand has been a traditional stronghold of the Taliban and a major centre for opium that US and British troops fought for years to control.

Government forces have complained bitterly of inadequate supplies and reinforcements and little of the air power that backed up North Atlantic Treaty Organisation forces when they fought in the region.

The loss of Sangin would be a significant blow for the government in Kabul because it is central to the opium trade and was a stranglehold for the insurgents.

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