Newspaper article International New York Times

British Troops Rush to Help Afghans Hold off Taliban ; Helmand Province Is One of Several Areas at Risk of Falling to Insurgents

Newspaper article International New York Times

British Troops Rush to Help Afghans Hold off Taliban ; Helmand Province Is One of Several Areas at Risk of Falling to Insurgents

Article excerpt

The besieged district of Sangin, along with others nearby, seemed in danger of totally falling to insurgents after days of heavy fighting.

Besieged Afghan forces were struggling to head off a complete Taliban takeover of the critical southern district of Sangin on Tuesday, and a new deployment of British troops was rushed in to help direct an increasingly pressed battle across the surrounding province of Helmand.

A small contingent of British forces arrived in an advisory role at Camp Shorabak, the largest British military base in Afghanistan before it was handed over to the Afghan forces last year, the British Defense Ministry said Tuesday in a statement.

"They are not deployed in a combat role and will not deploy outside the camp," the statement said.

The new British deployment, which Afghan officials said included about 40 people, is in addition to an influx of American Special Operations forces that were deployed to Helmand when the provincial capital, Lashkar Gah, was on verge of falling several weeks ago.

The Western deployment comes as Sangin, which had been a Taliban stronghold for years, appeared on the verge of falling completely to the Taliban after weeks of heavy fighting there and in neighboring districts.

Ebadullah Alizai, a member of the provincial council in Helmand, said much of the center of Sangin was under Taliban control, with an Afghan Army unit surrounded and in urgent need of reinforcements. But attempts to get the extra troops was being slowed by roadside bombs, he said.

Sangin has been one of the deadliest Afghan battlegrounds for British and American troops through the war. And within months of the NATO handover of security control to the Afghan forces there, the district began coming under heavy insurgent pressure again.

The Afghan forces have been mostly penned into their bases in Sangin over the past year. But in recent weeks, things got even worse, as police forces began taking heavy casualties, Afghan officials said. By Tuesday, the remaining police contingent and members of the civilian government had retreated from the district center and were surrounded at an army base about two miles away, said Abdul Bashir Shakir, head of the security committee at the provincial council. …

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