03:54 GMT +323 September 2018
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    Afghan Taliban fighters. File photo

    Taliban Advances in Main Opium-Producing Region as Afghan Troops Retreat

    © AFP 2018 / Noorullah Shirzada
    Middle East
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    The vast territory of Helmand, a key opium-producing Afghani region, was left to the mercy of the Taliban after government troops withdrew from the northern districts of province.

    Afghani forces left the strategically crucial districts of Musa Qala and Nawzad five days ago, allowing the militants to take control of the area, Xinhua reported, quoting reports by local media.

    Amid rising concern over the ability of the state government to combat the Taliban without international military support, army officials attempted to calm an unnerved public. They announced that the latest move was intended to concentrate the largest military contingent in areas surrounding the provincial capital of Lashkar Gah, as well as around a key route linking Kabul, the state capital, and the western city of Herat.

    "We have withdrawn our forces from Nawzad and Musa Qala based on military plans," said Mohammad Rasoul Zazai, a spokesman for the 215th army Corps.

    US Army Colonel Michael Lawhorn, a spokesman for NATO's Resolute Support mission in Kabul, welcomed the “tactical decision,” saying it would make the government forces more mobile and allow them to combat the Taliban “more effectively."

    Merza Khan Rahimi, the governor of Helmand, praised the step as well, explaining that "it is normal during fighting to move forward or retreat.” He added that abandoned districts could be reclaimed by the state army at any time.

    Official US statistics are less optimistic. Almost a third of the country, ravaged by the long-term conflict, may find itself in the hands of the Taliban again.

    The evacuation of Afghani troops from the north of Helmand also opens a pathway for the Taliban into the neighboring Kajaki district, where a US-built hydroelectric dam, supplying all nearby regions with electricity, is located.

    After an international military coalition left Afghanistan in 2014, state forces gradually lost control of Helmand, encouraging the Taliban in its continuing offensive.

    The militant group seeks to oust all Western-backed entities, re-establishing Islamic rule in the country.

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    Tags:
    US troop withdrawal, War in Afghanistan, Taliban, Nawzad, Musa Qala, Helmand, Afghanistan
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