Afghanistan's southern province of Helmand is on the verge of falling to the Taliban, its deputy governor has warned. At least 90 government troops have been killed in two days of clashes.
Confrontations between Taliban forces and government soldiers have intensified in several key districts of Helmand, fuelling concern that the province is on the brink of a security collapse.
The situation led Mohammad Jan Rasoolyar, the provincial deputy governor, to plead publicly for reinforcements from the capital, Kabul.
"I know that bringing up this issue on social media will make you very angry," Rasoolyar wrote in a Facebook post addressed to President Ashraf 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 highly unusual public plea from a serving official recalls the events that led up to the fall of the northern city of Kunduz in late September. Taliban militants seized that provincial center for several days before government troops wrested back control.
If Helmand were to fall, it would deliver a blow to government claims that Afghan's NATO-backed security forces, fighting largely alone since international troops ceased combat operations last year, are controlling the insurgency.
Army spokesman Mohammad Rasool Zazai said he had no comment on the request. But he added that Helmand would never collapse.
Police chief Abul Rahman Sarjang said: "We have strong forces in Helmand. In some places, we leave areas for tactical reasons, but all forces are working together well and very soon we will have major achievements to report."
Helmand province has been the scene of heavy clashes between Afghan security forces and Taliban militants over the past few months
Thousands of lives, billions of dollars hasn't stopped Taliban
The Afghan government - backed by billions of dollars in international aid and training assistance from thousands of NATO troops still stationed in Afghanistan - is pushing to re-open talks with the Taliban.
US President Barack Obama in October announced that thousands of US troops would remain in Afghanistan past 2016, reversing previous plans to reduce the force and acknowledging that Afghan forces are not ready to hold their own against the Taliban and other insurgent militants.
Reuters news agency and the "Wall Street Journal" newspaper have carried reports of US Special Forces fighting in Helmand in recent weeks. But NATO's headquarters in Kabul has not confirmed these reports.
A US Defense Department report to US lawmakers last week highlighted major shortcomings with Afghan security forces, despite billions of dollars of foreign aid and training over more than a decade.
jar/sms (AFP, Reuters)