Afghan official uses social media to ask president for help

KANDAHAR, AFGHANISTAN: A senior Afghan official on Sunday took the unusual step of using Facebook to implore the president to send help to his beleaguered province, saying that without assistance the area could fall to the Taliban.

Mohammad Jan Rasulyar, the deputy governor of Helmand province, tagged President Ashraf Ghani in a Facebook post that said more than 90 security forces were killed in the past month fighting insurgents, with hundreds killed in the past six months. He said he was unable to make direct contact with the president by other means.

In his open letter to Ghani, he wrote: "Your Excellency, Facebook is not the right forum for speaking with you, but as my voice hasn't been heard by you I don't know what else to do.

"Please save Helmand from tragedy. Ignore those liars who are telling you that Helmand is secure."

For months, Taliban fighters have been attacking and taking over districts in Helmand. Army and police have been able to take back most of the districts, but the fighting has exhausted and depleted the security forces.

"Unless the government acts now we will lose the province," Rasulyar said in the Facebook post.

He later told The Associated Press: "I can't hold my tongue anymore."

Helmand is a pivotal Taliban base as it produces most of the world's opium, with the proceeds helping fund the 14-year insurgency.

A number of districts have been temporarily overrun by Taliban fighters in recent months, only to be reclaimed within hours or days by government forces. Strategically important districts including Nawzad, Sangin and Gereshk have been seriously threatened by insurgents seeking to keep open distribution routes for men, arms, drugs and other lucrative contraband.