Afghan soldiers, backed by Coalition forces, are battling the Taliban for the second day straight in a district that serves as a Taliban stronghold in the northwestern province of Badghis.
Afghan and Coalition forces launched a two-pronged operation in Badghis about 10 days ago that targeted the Taliban-controlled district of Balamurghab. Troops established checkpoints in the district in an attempt to provide security for a road project, a senior Afghan general told Quqnoos.
Heavy fighting broke out yesterday. Eighteen Taliban fighters and six Afghan soldiers were killed during the first day. Twelve more Taliban fighters and three Afghan troops were killed during fighting today. Four Afghan soldiers have been reported missing.
Earlier last week, three Afghan soldiers were killed and Italian paratroopers and three Afghan soldiers wounded during a clash. Two Italian helicopters were also damaged from enemy ground fire.
Badghis is critical to the Taliban’s northern front. The Taliban are attempting to isolate the province by keeping the instability high so the paved section of the northern ring road cannot be completed. The Taliban want to use their safe havens in Badghis to launch attacks against neighboring Faryab province and eventually Mazar-i-Sharif.
The Balamurghab district serves as the Taliban’s main operations hub for northwestern Afghanistan. Taliban commanders in Badghis claimed to have 74 bases scattered throughout the Balamurghab district alone. Both Balamurghab and the neighboring district of Ghormach are under Taliban control. US, Spanish, and Afghan forces now maintain a presence in the Balamurghab district at the newly-built Forward Operating Base Columbus.
Fighting has escalated in Badghis since last year. In August 2008, Afghan soldiers killed 25 Taliban fighters during a 10-hour battle after being ambushed in the district of Muqur, which borders Iran. In September 2008, a Taliban spokesman and Afghan officials said that 50 Afghan soldiers had defected to the Taliban, taking their weapons with them. In October, two Taliban fighters were killed in an airstrike after they attacked a World Food Programme convoy in the Jawand district. In November, a US airstrike killed 15 Taliban fighters and seven civilians after the Taliban conducted an attack in the Ghormach district.
The clashes carried over into this year. In January 2009, 13 Taliban fighters and five civilians were killed after the Taliban attacked a tribal leader’s home in the Muqur district. In February, US forces killed Mullah Dastagir, the shadow governor of Badghis, along with two other Taliban leaders during an airstrike in the Balamurghab district.
The new Taliban leader for Badghis reportedly is Mohammad Iimael Barakzai, who currently holds little sway over the 85 different militia groups operating in the province. Old guard Taliban commander Abdul Rahman Haqqani is said to be attempting to return from Pakistan to take control of the province.
Factional and ethnic fighting has left a trail of destruction and bodies across Badghis since early January of this year when Taliban fighters attacked and killed some influential Tajik commanders formerly associated with Gulbuddin Hekmatyar’s Hezb-i-Islami. Tajik residents fought back on several occasions, and even killed Taliban commander Mullah Abdullah, a well- known leader in the district of Muqur. During January, Taliban fighters, then led by Dastagir, stormed the remote district of Jawand and continued to occupy several villages on the outskirts of the district headquarters.
For more information on Badghis province, see Northwestern Afghanistan: Badghis province seeks security, revitalization and Matt Dupee’s report at the Naval Postgraduate School, Badghis Province: Examining the Taliban’s Northwestern Campaign.