Key Afghan province close to falling to Taliban: official

Helmand’s deputy governor pleads for urgent intervention

Afp December 20, 2015

KABUL: Afghanistan’s southern province of Helmand is on the verge of falling to the Taliban, with 90 soldiers killed in two days of fierce clashes, its deputy governor said on Sunday.

Clashes between insurgents and government forces have intensified in several key districts of Helmand, fuelling concern that the province is on the brink of a security collapse.

In an unusual plea to President Ashraf Ghani via Facebook, deputy governor Mohammad Jan Rasoolyar pleaded for urgent intervention to save the province that British and US forces struggled for years to defend.

“I know that bringing up this issue on social media will make you very angry,” Rasoolyar wrote in his Facebook post addressed to Ghani.

“But I cannot be silent any more... as Helmand stands on the brink... Ninety men have been killed in Gereshk and Sangin districts in the last two days.”

The post bore grim similarities to the security situation that led to the brief fall of the northern city of Kunduz in September -- the biggest Taliban victory in 14 years of war.

The fall of Helmand would deal another stinging blow to the country’s Nato-backed forces as they struggle to rein in the insurgency.

There was no immediate reaction on Rasoolyar’s post from Ghani’s office. The defence ministry in Kabul strongly denied that Helmand would fall and rejected claims of 90 deaths.

But local officials backed Rasoolyar’s assertions, saying the Taliban were making steady gains in districts such as Sangin, which has long been a hornet’s nest of insurgent activity.

Afghanistan’s spy agency chief resigned earlier this month after a scathing Facebook post that vented frustration over Ghani’s diplomatic outreach to Pakistan -- aimed at restarting peace talks with the insurgents.

Published in The Express Tribune, December 21st,  2015.


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