National Security

U.S. Sends 100 Troops to Capital of Helmand Province as Taliban Surges

Helmand province in March / AP
Helmand province in March / AP

The United States has deployed about 100 troops to the capital of the Helmand Province in Afghanistan as Taliban insurgents have made gains around the city.

Brig. Gen. Charles Cleveland, spokesman for U.S. forces in Afghanistan, said Monday that roughly 100 troops had arrived in Lashkar Gah, the capital of the key southern province, the Associated Press reported. The troops will advise and assist Afghan security forces fighting the Taliban in the area.

Kareem Atal, the head of Helmand’s provincial council, said that battles with Taliban insurgents were occurring "on several fronts" of the province, forcing road closures. He said that a significant majority of the province is controlled by insurgents.

"Around 80 percent of the province is under the control of the insurgents," Atal said. "There are a number of districts that the government claims are under their control, but the government is only present in the district administrative center and all around are under the control of the insurgents."

Taliban fighters began to seize nearby districts and close in on the city earlier this summer. Local Afghan officials have been raising alarm about the risk of Lashkar Gah falling to the Taliban for weeks.

Local Afghan officials said on Aug. 10 that additional Afghan troops were being deployed to Lashkar Gah amid increased fighting with the Taliban. Atal said then that Taliban fighters had surrounded the capital and that Afghan army and police units had been pulled back from checkpoints to help reinforce the city. Atal warned that the province could soon collapse without support from the central government.

Pentagon press secretary Peter Cook briefed reporters on the development in Washington, D.C., Monday afternoon, emphasizing that the troops are part of an expeditionary advisory package. The U.S. forces will advise and assist Afghan security forces, he said, and some will provide force protection for the American troops on the mission.

"There still are challenges in Afghanistan, there are dangerous places in Afghanistan," Cook said, acknowledging that Afghan forces "have seen some setbacks" in the Helmand Province.

Helmand was the site of some of the bloodiest battles between international forces and the Taliban during the Afghanistan war.

President Obama again slowed the drawdown of forces in Afghanistan earlier this year as Afghan security forces failed to staunch the Taliban’s resurgence. Around 8,400 U.S. troops will remain in Afghanistan through the end of Obama’s final term in January, nearly 3,000 more than he had previously planned.

A Pentagon report delivered to Congress in June illustrated how the Taliban has taken advantage of the reduced U.S. and allied military presence and expanded its reach in Afghanistan.

The U.S. Army announced in February that it was deploying 500 additional soldiers to Helmand Province, as Taliban fighters made gains against Afghan troops there.