Taliban strikes deep into Helmand province

Militant group now controls three districts captured by British and US forces during the Afghanistan war

Afghan army
Afghan National Army cadets dress as Taliban fighters for a Taliban capture military exercise
(Image credit: Daniel Berehulak/Getty Images))

Taliban insurgents have made further gains in Helmand this week, seizing a strategically significant district headquarters on Monday despite bombing by US warplanes and resistance from the Afghan army.

Militants overran Helmand's Musa Qala district on Monday – an area that was originally taken from them by British and Afghan forces in 2008.

US warplanes bombed the advancing Taliban over the weekend, killing 40 fighters, but the insurgents regrouped and overran Musa Qala, forcing district government forces to retreat, Newsweek reports.

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"Afghan special forces, police and commandos have been deployed to Helmand in order to retake Musa Qala district. Foreign air strikes are backing our forces," said Afghan defence ministry spokesman Dawlat Waziri.

The Taliban victory follows a withdrawal last week by Afghan soldiers from Nawzad – a neighbouring district captured by British and American troops during the war.

The withdrawal, in conjunction with the assault on Musa Qala, gives the Taliban control of three districts in northern Helmand as well as partial control of other parts of the region, including Kajaki, which allows them to disrupt the power supply from a large US-built hydroelectric dam.

What happens next?

A senior official in the Afghan Army’s 215 Maiwand Corps told the New York Times that "foreign forces" would be providing air support as the Afghan army moved to take Musa Qala back.

However, the loss of control of the region raises further questions over the achievements of US and UK forces in Afghanistan. As the UK ended combat operations in Afghanistan last year, the restoration of security in the most densely populated areas – the "green zone" – either side of the Helmand river was regarded as one of the allies' most significant successes, the BBC says. Consequently, the return of fighting to the region will be seen as a major blow as the Taliban's power continues to increase and poppy growing remains at record levels.

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