KANDAHAR, Afghanistan (AP) — Afghan police are refusing to return to the streets of a volatile southern district under Taliban attack, claiming that promised government help has not yet arrived, an Afghan official said Tuesday.
According to Karim Atal, the director of the Helmand provincial council, security forces are for now staying inside their base in Sangin district, where government forces have been fighting a Taliban takeover attempt for weeks.
Sangin is a major poppy-growing district in Helmand — the heartland of the Taliban — that produces most of the world's opium, the cash crop that funds the insurgency.
In comments to The Associated Press, Atal also dismissed reports that a military clearing operation had begun in the district. Taliban attempts to overrun Sangin peaked last week when fighters besieged the base, cutting off supply lines for troops, ammunition and food.
Days later, acting Defense Minister Masoom Stanekzai said reinforcements of special forces and commandoes had been deployed. A series of U.S. airstrikes followed and a small contingent of British troops were deployed as advisers for the over-stretched Afghan forces, which eventually helped break the siege.
In a sharp rebuke of the central authorities in Kabul, Atal said with army and police hunkered down inside the base in Sangin, "that's the only way they can claim that the district has not fallen" to the Taliban.
The Afghan police have been fighting the insurgency on the front lines and have sustained high casualties as they lack the arms, equipment and facilities of the army, despite doing the same job.
In the past three months, Atal also said, the fighting in four districts of Helmand had killed about 700 policemen and wounded 500. In addition, precise casualty figures were often difficult to obtain as the police lacked a "proper management system," he added.
Total casualty figures for Afghan security forces have not been made public by the defense or interior ministries, but are said by NATO military sources to be 28 percent higher than in 2014, when the total toll was around 5,000.
The Afghan forces have had a tough year on the battlefield, for the first time having to fight the insurgents alone, following the drawdown of international combat troops at the end of last year. The Taliban have used this to step up their offensives across the country.