Click map for full view. Taliban presence, by district, in Kandahar, Uruzgan, and Helmand provinces. Information on Taliban presence obtained from open source and derived by The Long War Journal based on the presence of Taliban shadow governments, levels of fighting, and statements from ISAF commanders. Map created by Bill Raymond for The Long War Journal.
Two Taliban commanders were killed in a Coalition airstrike in southern Afghanistan on March 16, while in central Afghanistan, Afghan and Coalition forces are conducting a major operation to dislodge the Taliban from a valley north of Kabul.
Taliban commander Jamaluddin Hanif and a “prominent facilitor” named Maulawi Mohammed Saddiq were killed during a March 16 airstrike in the Now Zad district of Helmand province.
Hanafi was “an integral member of the insurgency in Now Zad, and was heavily involved in several Improvised Explosive Device (IED) attacks, ambushes and the planning and execution of conventional attacks,” according to a NATO press release. He was appointed as a Taliban leader by Mullah Abdul Rahim in early 2008. Rahim is currently in Pakistani custody; Rahim’s brother was killed in a July 2008 airstrike that killed former Now Zad Taliban leader Mullah Bismullah Akhund.
After Rahim was detained, Hanafi took orders from senior Taliban leaders Abdul Qayoum Zakir and Mullah Naim Barich, “who direct insurgent activity from outside Afghanistan,” the NATO press release stated.
The Taliban leadership for southern Afghanistan, including overall Taliban leader Mullah Omar, is known to be based out of Quetta in Pakistan’s Baluchistan province. The US is considering expanding its airstrike campaign from Pakistan’s tribal areas into Baluchistan, according to a report in The New York Times.
Also killed in the March 16 strike was Maulawi Mohammad Saddiq, a Taliban facilitator who moved weapons and IEDs and was “one of the main authors of the Taliban regulations for Helmand province.”
Saddiq was close to Maulawi Sayed Rahman, a commander in central Helmand province. Saddiq also took orders from leaders Mullah Naim Barich and Akhtar Mohammed Mansour, who operate outside of Afghanistan.
Now Zad, in the southern Afghanistan province of Helmand, is a known haven for Taliban fighters and leaders. The districts where the provinces of Helmand, Kandahar, and Uruzgan meet are considered to be either under Taliban control or contested. The Taliban have conducted infantry-styled assaults and built fortifications in the region, and have conducted complex ambushes, according to an after action report from a US Marine officer that was obtained by The Long War Journal.
The US Marines have established a combat outpost in Now Zad in an effort to drive out the Taliban. In addition, Now Zad has been the focus of two other major airstrikes since late February. On Feb. 22, an Air Force B-1B Lancer bomber attacked “an anti-Afghan bunker” after Taliban forces attacked US troops. On March 4, US Marine Corps F/A-18C fighter-bombers strafed a Taliban compound that attacked US forces with mortars, rocket-propelled grenades, and machineguns.
Offensive underway in Kapisa
In Kapisa province north of Kabul, Afghan and Coalition forces have launched a major offensive to clear the Taliban from the Alasai Valley.
The operation, which was launched on March 14 and is still ongoing, has resulted in 29 Taliban fighters killed and 12 wounded, according to an International Security Assistance Forces press release. One Coalition soldier has been killed in the fighting. A battalion of French troops is deployed currently in Kapisa.
For the past several years, Kapisa province has served as a stronghold for the Taliban and allied insurgent groups and criminal networks, including Taliban suicide-bomb cells, Hezb-i-Islami fighters loyal to Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, and a host of anti-government tribal militias. The districts of Nejrab and Tag Ab are the least secure of Kapisa’s six districts.
Coalition forces killed five senior Taliban and insurgent leaders in Kapisa during a series of raids in early September 2008. Two of those killed were involved in last year’s deadly ambush of a joint French and Afghan force in the Sarobi district in the eastern region of Kabul province that resulted in 10 French soldiers killed and 21 more wounded.
The Taliban, al Qaeda, the Haqqani Network, Hezb-i-Islami-Gulbuddin, the Pakistani Taliban, and a host of allied groups have made gains in central Afghanistan over the past several years in their strategy to choke Kabul. The groups have taken control of large regions in Kapisa as well as Logar and Wardak provinces south of Kabul, and hope to gain more ground in their latest “spring offensive.”
The US has recently deployed a brigade of more than 3,000 troops to help break the Taliban’s grip on Wardak and Logar provinces. The US will also send an additional 17,000 troops to help stem the deteriorating security situation in Afghanistan. More than 8,000 Marines and 9,000 soldiers will be deployed to Afghanistan by this summer. The bulk of these troops will likely be deployed to the eastern and southern provinces where the Taliban control wide swaths of territory.