KABUL — A key district in Afghanistan's Helmand province was besieged by Taliban militants who also captured the area's main hospital, a local official told NBC News on Wednesday.
"The situation is precarious. The [Musa Qala] district police chief has been injured along with 15 of his men and several other police defending the district have been killed," the head of the provincial council Karim Atal told NBC News by telephone. "We have asked for help from the central government, but reinforcement has not arrived yet and the entire district could fall to the Taliban."
The militants seized Musa Qala's main hospital, which was treating civilians and security forces, Atal added.
Provincial police chief Gen. Nabi Jan Mulakhil confirmed that parts of the district have been taken over by the Taliban.
"Heavy clashes are still ongoing at the district center," he said, adding that security officials there would soon launch an operation to take back the area.
The Taliban claimed that it had already captured Musa Qala, although the militants often overstate victories and downplay defeats.
Helmand is a militant stronghold and has been the site of frequent fighting since the Taliban was toppled in 2001.
If Musa Qala falls, provincial capital Lashkar Gah would be cut off from crucial Kajaki hydroelectric dam. Musa Qala would also give the Taliban direct access to the main southern highway linking Kandahar to Herat, the country's main city in the west.
Also on Wednesday, NATO said two of its service members in Helmand had been killed by gunmen wearing Afghan national security forces uniforms.
Violence has worsened throughout the country as NATO withdraws and Afghan forces struggle to hold ground in the face of militant offensives.