The Taliban has been gaining ground in the Helmand Province for quite awhile, locking up important districts in the opium farming region in a sustained offensive against Afghan ground troops. Now, NATO is sending its own troops back into Helmand to try to stall the offensive.
Details on troop numbers in Helmand are not public yet, but the Pentagon confirmed US airstrikes against Taliban targets inside Helmand were meant to target Taliban groups “threatening” NATO coalition troops in the area, as Musa Qala District Governor called for yet more military support for the region.
Musa Qala is a valuable city in the opium trade in Helmand, and was held by the Taliban for some time before NATO troops took it in 2007. With Taliban fighters taking the neighboring district of Naw Zad last week, that gain may soon be erased.
NATO has made much of “ending” the Afghan War and moving to a purely support role, but with the Taliban taking more and more territory across Afghanistan, they’re looking to again get more pro-active to avoid more calamitous losses for an Afghan military which seems in many cases outmatched.
These territorial losses were less important when there was some peace process ongoing, but the Afghan revelation of the death of former Taliban leader Mullah Omar killed that, and has the new leader, Mullah Mansour, trying to prove he’s an effective war leader to unify commanders who aren’t all on board with him as a replacement.
The reports of the Taliban splintering also have NATO interested in trying to further that divide, as they’ve been imagining for 14 years now that they’d eventually be able to divide and wipe out the Taliban. This too seems to be pointing away from everybody being resigned to some sort of diplomatic settlement, and toward yet more war.