The Daily Telegraph

General warns that Russia may be arming Taliban as Sangin falls to militants

Town in Helmand, which saw more than 100 British soldiers die in its defence, is re-taken by the rebels

- Raf Sanchez MIDDLE EAST CORRESPOND­ENT reportedly

THE top US general in Europe has warned that Russia may now be arming militants in Afghanista­n, as an Afghan town was captured by the Taliban after more than 100 British soldiers died trying to defend it.

The strategic district of Sangin in Helmand province was the deadliest battlefiel­d for UK forces in Afghanista­n. But the town fell early yesterday morning as Taliban forces continued a year-long offensive to extend their reach in southern Afghanista­n.

The Afghan government said it would recapture the town but it was not clear if it had the forces necessary.

The setback came as the top US gen- eral in Europe warned that Russia may now be arming the militants. “I’ve seen the influence of Russia of late – increased influence in terms of associatio­n and perhaps even supply to the Taliban,” Curtis Scaparrott­i, Nato’s Supreme Allied Commander Europe, told a Senate hearing in Washington.

Earlier this month a senior Pakistani military source told The Daily Telegraph that Russia could be tempted to stage a Syria-style interventi­on in Afghanista­n if Taliban and Isil strength continues to grow. Russia has denied supporting the Taliban, saying its contacts with the group are aimed at bringing it to the negotiatin­g table.

The fall of Sangin is the latest sign of how Afghanista­n’s security forces have struggled to hold their own against the Taliban since the withdrawal of most Western troops in 2014. Afghan soldiers have suffered massive casualties and are dogged by equipment shortages, with salaries sometimes not paid because of corruption.

An Afghan policeman killed nine of his comrades as they slept and then fled to join the Taliban yesterday morning. The killing, which took place in the northern province of Kunduz, is part of a spike of “insider attacks” in which Afghans have turned their weapons on their own side.

Colonel Richard Kemp, the former commander of British forces in Afghanista­n, said he was not surprised to hear of Sangin’s fall.

“The reality is that when we withdrew we left the Afghan security forces in a state where they were not able to do the job and defend the territory allegedly held by the Afghan government,” he said. “We and the Americans should have remained in Afghanista­n in much greater numbers to see them through the transition period.”

Col Kemp said Sangin’s fall might make some British veterans question if the fight had been worth it, but the town was not very symbolic for UK forces.

Afghan forces are understood to have fallen back to a base six miles south, which is easier to defend.

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