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More Afghan troops rushed to key area under Taliban attack

KABUL, Afghanistan -- Reinforcements have been rushed to a besieged southern district threatened for days with takeover by Taliban fighters, Afghanistan's acting defense minister said on Wednesday.

Fighting in the Sangin district of Helmand was continuing as army and police arrived to help security forces who had been pinned down for days, Masoom Stanekzai said.

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Afghanistan's embattled security forces needed international military help, especially air support, which would help reduce casualties, Stanekzai told reporters.

Sangin is an important poppy-growing district in Helmand, which borders Pakistan and sits on transport routes for drugs, arms and other lucrative contraband.

"The Helmand battle is not easy because the province has a long border, is a core of opium production, and our enemies are well-equipped and deeply involved in the smuggling of drugs," he said. "These factors complicate the battle for Sangin."

Britain has sent a small contingent of soldiers to Helmand as advisers under the NATO mandate. The return of British troops is poignant, as they suffered more than 100 of their 456 fatalities during their 13-year Afghan combat mission in Sangin.

Afghanistan's security forces are taking on the Taliban alone, following the end of the international combat mission last year. The U.S. and NATO have around 13,000 troops in the country, most of them operating under a training mandate.

Districts across Helmand have been threatened by the Taliban in recent months.

"There is fighting here every day, and whenever people come to the bazaar for shopping they get killed," shopkeeper Musa Khan in Marjah district near the provincial capital Lashkar Gah told the Reuters news agency.

The fight for Sangin has been particularly ferocious, with officials saying that only the army base was still in government hands until Tuesday.

Supply lines were cut, preventing ammunition and food from reaching government forces, and roads around the district center mined, officials have said.

Stanekzai said that with the arrival of new troops to the area, the battle would be reinvigorated and "this should help cut the number of casualties, and provide much-needed logistical support."

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