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US Sends 100 Troops to Lashkar Gah in Afghanistan’s Embattled Helmand Province

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US Sends 100 Troops to Lashkar Gah in Afghanistan’s Embattled Helmand Province

The troops are on a train, advise, and assist mission, but the line between advising and combat is growing blurry.

US Sends 100 Troops to Lashkar Gah in Afghanistan’s Embattled Helmand Province

An Afghan Border Police student demonstrates hand-to-hand combat during a class at the Lashkar Gah Training Center in Lashkar Gah, Helmand province, Afghanistan (January 15, 2013)

Credit: U.S. Army photo by Bill Putnam/Released

The Taliban offensive in Helmand Valley continues unabated. In an effort to protect the provincial capital from collapse, the U.S. Department of Defense announced that roughly 100 troops have arrived in the capital under the train, advise, and assist Resolute Support mission.

During Monday’s DOD press briefing, Pentagon Press Secretary Peter Cook confirmed that the United States had sent “about 100 troops, an expeditionary advisory package, in total” to Lashkar Gah. Cook said the forces had two primary missions: “first to provide training, advise, and assist to the police zone headquarters there in Lashkar Gah, and second to provide force protection for those actually doing the advising. So some of these forces are there to protect those forces, and they were all done under the Resolute Support mission.”

He added, “They’ve gone down there to assist the police zone headquarters and their leadership team with a focused train, advise, and assist mission, looking largely at the force protection issue. And this will not be a permanent presence. They will return to their base at some point.”

Local residents have described the situation as tense and frightening. “We are tired of the situation; all four directions into Lashkar Gah are under siege,” said Sifatullah, a resident.

The situation is very bad, the areas surrounding Lashkar Gah city are controlled by the Taliban and even Lashkar Gah city is run by Taliban and the government,” said Sultan Mohammad a resident.

Villages surrounding the city that were previously reported as clear are still contested, with ongoing fights in Nad Ali and Nawa. According to the Guardian, the government only retains control of a few administrative buildings in these districts.

Brig. Gen. Charles Cleveland, spokesman for the coalition forces in Afghanistan, told reporters, “This is a big effort by the Taliban. This is probably the most serious push we’ve seen of the season.”

The strategic highway linking Lashkar Gah to Kandahar remains closed, with upwards of 20 checkpoints established by Taliban forces.

As reported on Wednesday, an American service member was killed in Lashkar Gah when his patrol was struck by an improvised explosive device; six Afghan soldiers and another American soldier were wounded in the same incident. It is the second casualty this year for U.S. forces as a result of hostile fire from enemy forces.

The line between combat forces and NATO troops in an advisory role continues to be blurred as Omar Zwak, a spokesman for the governor of Helmand said, “NATO troops are now on the ground fighting with Afghan forces against the Taliban.”

Afghan forces are currently engaged in high stakes battles throughout the country side with ongoing sieges of two major population centers in Kunduz and Lashkar Gah. General Charles Cleveland has attributed much of the woes of Afghan forces to leadership problems.