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SAS in battle to stop Taliban overrunning Sangin

The Telegraph logo The Telegraph 22/12/2015 Barney Henderson
SAS in battle to stop Taliban overrunning Sangin © Provided by The Telegraph SAS in battle to stop Taliban overrunning Sangin

British troops have been deployed to Afghanistan to help local forces as they fight to retake control of a key town in Helmand after it was overrun by Taliban fighters.

The deployment reportedly includes at least one SAS unit of around 30 soldiers who were operating alongside American special forces and the Afghan National Army.

It marks the first return of British troops to the restive province since last year.

The town of Sangin and its surrounding hills in the opium-growing heartlands of Helmand province was the scene of some of Britain's heaviest losses in Afghanistan.

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There were 106 British casualties as the Army fought to keep Sangin out of the hands of the Taliban from 2006 to 2010, when responsibility for the area was handed over to the Americans.

However, by Monday night much of the town was thought to be under Taliban control.

On Sunday, some 14 months after the departure of British combat troops from Afghanistan, Helmand's deputy governor, Mohammad Jan Rasulyar, was pleading with the Afghan government to send reinforcements, after the deaths of some 90 members of the Afghan security forces in the previous two days.

Elite British troops were fighting alongside 60 US special forces to reclaim the town, The Times reported.

The Wall Street Journal reported that at least three American Special Forces Operational Detachment Alpha units, known as A-Teams, have been deployed in the area.

The MoD refused to comment on any operations involving the SAS.

A spokeswoman said: "As part of the UK's ongoing contribution to Nato's Resolute Support Mission, a small number of UK personnel have deployed to Camp Shorabak in Helmand province in an advisory role.

"These personnel are part of a larger Nato team which is providing advice to the Afghan National Army. They are not deployed in a combat role and will not deploy outside the camp.

"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."

A spokesman for the US military confirmed that "additional US special forces have been sent to augment our Train, Advise, and Assist mission in Helmand".

On Monday, local residents reported crippling food shortages in Sangin district, long seen as a hornet's nest of insurgent activity, after the Taliban began storming government buildings on Sunday.

"The Taliban have captured the police headquarters, the governor's office as well as the intelligence agency building in Sangin," deputy Helmand governor Mohammad Jan Rasoolyar told AFP.

"Fighting is escalating in the district."

General Lord Richards of Herstmonceux, a former Nato commander in Afghanistan, told The Times that Britain and its allies should be prepared to increase the number of support troops in the country if needed.

He said: "It is important that the West honours its commitment to protect the Afghan people as well as the memory of those who fought and died there to keep us safe from extremism."

Captain Doug Beattie, who served in southern Afghanistan, added: "It is looking like all of that blood, sweat and toil could have been for nothing.

"You have to ask yourself the question: why is it all failing? Was it all for nothing?"

From the start of operations in October 2001, 456 British forces personnel or MoD civilians were killed while serving in Afghanistan.

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