More than a hundred U.S troops have been sent to Lashkargah to help prevent the Taliban from overrunning the capital of Afghanistan’s Helmand province, in what is thought to be the first U.S deployment to the embattled city since foreign troops withdrew in 2014, the Guardian reported on Monday.
Since late July, the Taliban have seized new territory across Helmand, defying a series of about 30 U.S airstrikes, and raising concern of an attack on the capital. The militants have also stepped up attacks in the country’s north, closing in on Kunduz, which they briefly captured last year.
“This is a big effort by the Taliban. This is probably the most serious push we’ve seen of the season,” Brig Gen Charles Cleveland, spokesman for the coalition forces in Afghanistan, told reporters on Monday.
Cleveland called the U.S reinforcement in Helmand a “temporary effort” to advise the Afghan police, though he declined to say how long it was expected to last, citing “security reasons”, reported the Guardian.
“They’re not about to go out and conduct operations or something like that,” Cleveland said.
Neither did he specify the exact number of troops, but said they numbered “about a hundred”.
Sources in Helmand believe about 130 U.S troops have arrived at the airport where they will be based, reported the Guardian.
The most significant Taliban advances have been Nawa and Nad Ali districts, a stone’s throw west of Lashkargah, where the government retain control of only a few administrative buildings.
The situation has become so bad that civilian elders of Nawa, traditionally one of Helmand’s most peaceful districts, have asked the provincial governor for weapons to join the fight, said Wali Mohammad, a villager from that district.
The Taliban also continue to block parts of the main highway leading north from Lashkargah, said Mohammad Rasoul Zazai, spokesman of the Afghan army’s 215th Corps. He said the road would take days to clear because it had been heavily mined.
This latest move comes amid an uptick in violence in the south and north-east parts of the country which has in the past few weeks witnessed heavy attacks by the Taliban in districts of Kunduz, Takhar and Baghlan provinces.