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Afghan official: More troops needed against Taliban in south

January 20, 2016 5:41 A.M.

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan — Afghan troops are fighting the Taliban across most of southern Helmand province and are in desperate need of reinforcements, an Afghan official said on Wednesday.

Government forces are also facing serious challenges in Helmand's capital, Lashkar Gah, said Gen. Abdul Rahman Sarjang, the provincial police chief.

"Our forces are exhausted and we need reinforcements," he said.

"We need fresh police and soldiers because our men have been fighting for the last month or two," Sarjang added.

Afghan police fight on the front-lines across Afghanistan, often without the equipment and backup of the army, which means casualties are higher.

Sarjang said he was in contact with central authorities in Kabul and was confident fresh reinforcement would be deployed soon.

A lack of co-ordination between the army and police was also hampering progress in the fight, he told The Associated Press.

The Taliban are making serious stands in seven Helmand districts — Sangin, Gereshk, Khanashin, Musa Qala, Nawzad, Washer and Marjah — and at least three districts of the provincial capital are also under threat, he said.

Helmand is a strategic region for the Taliban, as it borders Pakistan. It grows large quantities of opium, used to produce most of the world's heroin. The harvest is worth up to $3 billion a year, and helps fund the insurgency.

Taliban gunmen have been targeting districts across Helmand for weeks, meeting government forces that are under-prepared, under-manned and under-equipped, according to civil and military officials.

Sangin district was besieged for weeks until the ferocity of the fight in late December sparked fears that it could fall to the insurgents. The United States conducted airstrikes on Taliban positions, the British rushed special forces advisers to the area, and the Afghan military dropped food and ammunition to soldiers and police who were surrounded in their base.

Abdul Salam, a tribal elder from Sangin district, said that the Taliban were in control of the whole of Sangin, with government forces restricted to their bases. He contradicted claims by Afghan security forces that they controlled the district.

Karim Atal, head of the provincial council of Helmand, said that the lack of co-ordination between government security forces has given the Taliban the opportunity to gain control of many areas in the province.

He said that unless the government reacts quickly, Lahskar Gar would fall to the Taliban.

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Associated Press writers Lynne O'Donnell and Rahim Faiez in Kabul contributed to this story.

Mirwais Khan, The Associated Press

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