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Afghan forces retreat from districts in strategic Helmand

In this photograph taken on February 17, 2016, Afghan security forces patrol following an operation against Islamic State (IS) militants in Achin district in Nangarhar province. Security forces launched anti-militant operations on February 12, in Achin district, killing at least 46 armed insurgents and wounding 20 others, army commander General Zaman Waziri said. AFP PHOTO / Noorullah SHIRZADA / AFP / Noorullah Shirzada

Kandahar / AFP

Afghan troops have retreated from two districts in the southern province of Helmand, officials said on Monday, a move which highlights the challenge from Taliban fighters in the opium-producing region.
“The Afghan army retreated from two army bases in Musa Qala and one base from Nawzad district” on Saturday, provincial governor Khan Rahimi said, leaving no troops anywhere in those districts.
He said the soldiers had moved to other parts of Helmand such as the heavily-contested districts of Lashkar Gah and Sangin, adding: “We have no concerns regarding this step but we have plans to ensure security in other vulnerable areas.”
But the decision was criticised by Abdul Majeed Akhundzada, deputy chief of the provincial council.
“Retreating from Musa Qala looks to me like ignoring the deaths of Afghan security forces and the civilians,” Akhundzada said.
Helmand has seen some of the fiercest battles of the Taliban’s battle against local and foreign forces that began in 2001.
The militants have intensified their campaign in the province since the NATO combat mission in the war-torn country officially ended in 2014.
Last October President Barack Obama announced that thousands of US troops would remain in Afghanistan past 2016 in what is officially a training and support role, backpedalling on previous plans to reduce the force and acknowledging that Afghan forces are not ready to stand alone.
The US has deployed several hundred troops in Helmand in recent weeks.
In August last year Taliban insurgents briefly captured the town of Musa Qala before Afghan forces backed by NATO retook it.
Last December a Taliban offensive drove Afghan forces from most of Sangin, a major poppy growing area in in the province.

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