Following heavy clashes in southern Helmand province, and the growing fear of districts falling to the Taliban, U.S Special Operations forces have secretly taken a more central role in the fighting in a bid to help drive out the insurgents, reports the New York Times.
According to the report, not just air power has been committed to the battle but so too have ground troops.
It was reported that a Western diplomat said last week that the U.S special ops forces have in fact been involved in the fight for a few weeks – despite the withdrawal of foreign combat troops by President Barack Obama at the end of last year.
The New York Times reports that the extent of the American role has been kept largely secret, with senior Afghan officials in the area saying they are under orders not to divulge the level of cooperation, especially by Special Operations forces on the ground.
The report states that the Pentagon is concerned that the involvement may suggest that the American combat role, which was supposed to have ended in December 2014, is still far beyond the official “train, advise and assist” mission.
The elite ground units in Helmand include both Special Operations troops and the United States Air Force’s Special Tactics Squadron, according to the Western diplomat, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
The American intervention in Helmand comes amid reports of Taliban capturing more districts and Afghan security forces being trapped and becoming more demoralized, read the report adding that if insurgents are able to sweep away the tenuous government presence in district centers and the capital, Lashkar Gah, it would be a dire setback for the Afghan government, and would give the Taliban a strong foothold in southern Afghanistan.
Asked whether American forces were taking a larger combat role in Helmand, a United States military spokesman, Col. Michael T. Lawhorn, would not reply directly. But he praised the Afghan forces’ efforts so far.
“There’s little question that Helmand is a contested area,” Lawhorn said. “But the Afghan National Security Forces have conducted no fewer than five major operations there to disrupt insurgent and Taliban activities.”
The Afghan commandos are asking NATO forces for help in retaking the district center and expect to receive air support, he said, adding, “Otherwise we will lose the district completely.”