March 23 (UPI) -- Strategic Sangin district in Afghanistan's embattled Helmand province fell to Taliban forces on Thursday, local military and government officials said.
The area was the scene of heavy fighting for years, with more British and U.S. causalities there than in any of Afghanistan's approximately 400 other districts. The international military coalition controlled it starting in 2013, but Taliban forces took control this week.
Taliban forces have lately concentrated on retaking the district as part of a larger strategy to dominate the entire province adjacent to Pakistan.
Government officials reported heavy fighting Wednesday night, with Afghan forces retreating to a military base while their prior bases of operations were bombed and destroyed in aerial attacks to prevent their use by the Taliban. There were no reports of casualties. A local army spokesman, though, said there was no serious fighting, and Afghan forces retreated after the Taliban overtook local homes.
"We didn't want to fire back to avoid civilian casualties," Mohammed Rassool said. "The military council decided to order a retreat." He said the Taliban had been "trying for years to capture Sangin. They did it yesterday," The Washington Post reported.
The Taliban launched an attack in the town of Sangin two months ago. The town of 30,000, in the center of Helmand province's opium region, was under Taliban control until British troops established a base there in 2006. Taliban forces besieged the area in a nine-month campaign regarded as among the fiercest battles of the long war. By 2007 Sangin was restored to Afghan government control.