The district of Sangin, located in Helmand Province, has become a flashpoint of heavy fighting between Afghan forces and the Taliban.
Government forces, with the help of US air strikes, have been trying to recapture the area from the Taliban, who say they are in control of the district.
Sources in Sangin told The Independent that the Afghan army had been forced to abandon its base and the police headquarters in the town. “The Taliban are in control of the district,” a source said. A Taliban spokesperson later said: “Sangin district has completely collapsed to the Taliban.”
But why is Sangin, a town of just 14,000 people, so important?
1. More than 100 British soldiers have died trying to defend Sangin
If Sangin was to fall completely into the Taliban’s hands, it would be a major propaganda victory for the group.
Nearly a quarter of all British troops who died in Afghanistan were killed in the town.
While US and UK troops have been sent to Helmand Province in the last week, they are there in an advisory role only.
2. Helmand Province is opium-rich
One of the major reasons the Taliban want to maintain control of Helmand is because the poppies that finance the group’s war are grown there.
If the group were to take Sangin, it would be a significant gain for the militants.
3. Sangin is strategically located
The town has become a major centre for the Taliban’s insurgency, as it is links Lashkah Gah, the capital of Helmand, to the province’s northern districts.
Regaining full control would increase the Taliban’s mobility in the north of the province and cut a key supply line for Afghan forces.
Sangin also borders Pakistan, where the militant group has military and financial support.
4. It could become a major recruiting ground for the Taliban
Many local people in Sangin are resentful of the Afghan government troops, whose military operations destroyed homes and farms.
The Taliban will likely exploit this resentment to foster sympathy for their cause.