Al Jazeera, December 23, 2015

Residents stranded as battle for Helmand intensifies

Residents say battle for Sangin district has left them stranded as the clashes continue for the third day

By Shereena Qazi

Residents of Sangin in Afghanistan have told Al Jazeera they are stranded with no food and water supplies as fierce fighting continues between government forces and the Taliban for control of Helmand province.

Atiqullah Rehman, a Sangin resident who wants to flee the area but has been unable to, said that his family had not eaten for the past two days.

"Since the Taliban took over the district, all the markets have been shut. Everyone is trying to leave but we cannot step out of our homes," Rehman told Al Jazeera.

"We might get shot. This is how bad it is here."

Smoke bellows after a suicide car bomb blast attacked a military convoy in Lashkar Gah, Helmand province
Smoke bellows after a suicide car bomb blast attacked a military convoy in Lashkar Gah, Helmand province, Afghanistan, Nov. 15, 2015. (Photo: Reuters)

According to Helmand police chief Abdul Rahman Sarjang, the fighting is ongoing because part of Sangin district is still under Taliban control.

"We [and the Afghan forces] are moving slowly and cautiously to retake the centre of Sangin to avoid civilian casualties," he told Al Jazeera.

Another man, Esmatullah, managed to flee Sangin with his family of four and said they were now in Lashkar Gah, which is about one hour away by road. They had to leave their belongings at home, he said.

"We don't know when we will be able to go back home. Maybe not any time soon," he told Al Jazeera. "In fear of losing our lives or dying of starvation, we had to leave everything behind and move to Lashkar Gah.

"It is not easy for us at the moment, but I have relatives here who are taking care of us."

When asked about the conditions for civilians in Sangin, Mohammad Jan Rasoolyar, Helmand’s deputy governor, admitted that the situation was critical.

"We are helpless when there is war going on," he told Al Jazeera.

"We are trying our best to make sure they are provided with basic necessities like food and water. It is our responsibility, but there is not much we can do at the moment. We are desperately waiting for the situation to get under control. Once it is, we will make sure to support the residents in any possible way."

Much of Sangin district fell to the Taliban just a day after Rasoolyar used Facebook to plead with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani for help in holding off the group.

The UK Ministry of Defence said on Tuesday that British troops had been deployed to the province to support local forces, but that they would have no combat role.

“As part of the UK’s ongoing contribution to NATO’s Resolute Support Mission, a small number of UK personnel have been deployed to Camp Shorabak in Helmand Province in an advisory role," a spokesman said.

“In total the UK has around 450 troops in Afghanistan mentoring and supporting the Afghan National Defence and Security Forces and the Afghan Security Ministries.”

The northern city of Kunduz briefly fell to the Taliban in late September - the biggest victory for the group in 14 years of war.

US President Barack Obama announced in October that thousands of US troops would remain in Afghanistan past 2016, keeping the current force of 9,800 troops, amid a surge in Taliban attacks.

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