ISLAMABAD, PAKISTAN - Taliban advances in a restive province of Afghanistan have prompted Britain to send a group of military advisers to help local forces in countering the insurgents. The recent hostilities have led to renewed International calls for seeking a negotiated settlement to the Afghan conflict.
For several weeks Afghan forces and the Taliban have fought in the southern Helmand province.
The Islamist insurgency is said to have engaged government forces in several districts, overrunning some of them, although Afghan officials contest those clams.
On Sunday, the provincial deputy governor warned the province was on the verge of collapse to the Taliban unless reinforcements arrived urgently.
Interior Ministry spokesman Sediq Seddiqi said Tuesday reinforcements have been sent to Helmand and confirmed the arrival of British military advisers, adding Afghan forces needed to strengthen their capacity and improve coordination.
Seddiqi explained the small British deployment has taken place under NATO’s Afghan mission.
“We enjoy the support of our [international] partners within the frame work of RS (Resolute Support) in Afghanistan, which is the advise and assist mission. But of course on the ground, it is the Afghan police and Afghan army that are confronting the Taliban. But we ultimately hope that after these measures in place, we will be able to change the situation down there,” he said.
The spokesman said government forces are focusing on the Sangin district after repelling insurgent attacks elsewhere. Regional officials say insurgents have surrounded the last remaining Afghan held military base in the area.
Helmand is a major poppy-producing Afghan region and a traditional Taliban heartland.
British Ambassador to Afghanistan Karen Pierce told a seminar in Kabul the Helmand fighting underscores the urgency for seeking a negotiated settlement.
"The Afghan government, the survival of the Afghan state is at stake with the conflict that is going on here ... I mean you only have to look at Sangin today to look at how difficult it is for a military solution to be the answer,” said Pierce.
The U.N. envoy to Afghanistan, Nicholas Haysom, told the Security Council on Monday there has been an "overall deterioration in security in the country and Afghan forces are "stretched to capacity." He also emphasized the need for Afghanistan "to find a political route to peace."