Afghan security forces backed by US special operations teams killed 41 Taliban fighters during two raids last night in enemy strongholds in the northern province of Kunduz.
Fighting broke out in the Afghan north after Afghan and US forces targeted Taliban commanders in the districts of Chahara Dara and Kunduz. The US military claimed that “more than two dozen insurgents” were killed during the raid in the village of Kharid-e Olya, just outside the provincial capital of Kunduz City.
“The combined force went to a compound in the village of Kharid-e Olya, Kunduz District, after intelligence information confirmed the Taliban were staging for a large attack,” according to a press release at the International Security Assistance Force’s website. “As the Afghan-led element moved into the target area they immediately began receiving fire from a mosque and surrounding woods, and then returned defensive fires.”
Taliban fighters launched a counterattack, which was supported by “machine guns, automatic rifles and hand grenades.” US troops called in air support but did not target the mosque, despite the fact that it was used for firing on the US and Afghan forces.
The second raid took place in the village of Gul Bagh in the disctrict of Chahara Dara. Details of the fight were not disclosed.
Fighting was reported to have gone on for several hours in both villages, the provincial police spokesman told Xinhua. A Taliban commander known as Mullah Deen Mohammad and three other fighters were captured.
Several foreign fighters were reported killed, although their exact numbers and nationalities were not disclosed by the police spokesman. The Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan and the Islamic Jihad Union are both known to fight alongside the Taliban in the north. Four suicide vests were also seized during the operation.
Afghan officials put the total number of Taliban fighters killed at 41, although villages in Gul Bagh claimed that more than 20 Taliban fighters were killed there.
Over the past two years, the security situation in the northern provinces of Kunduz and Baghlan has deteriorated. The Taliban and allied terror groups maintain safe havens in Baghlan and Kunduz, and control large portions of the provinces. Of the seven districts in Kunduz province, only two are considered under government control; the rest of the districts – Chahara Dara, Dashti Archi, Ali Abab, Khan Abad, and Iman Sahib – are considered contested or under Taliban control, according to a map produced by Afghanistan’s Interior Ministry in the spring of 2009. Two districts in neighboring Baghlan province – Baghlan-i-Jadid and Burka – are under the control of the Taliban [see LWJ report, “Afghan forces and Taliban clash in Kunduz,” and Threat Matrix report, “Afghanistan’s wild-wild North”].
Kunduz and Baghlan fall under ISAF’s Regional Command North, which is led by the Germans. The Germans have been criticized by the Afghan government and Coalition partners for failing to aid in securing the north. German troops are restricted from actively engaging in major combat operations and have largely confined their forces to base.
Kunduz has been the scene of heavy fighting over the past year. On April 24, Afghan and Coalition forces killed 23 Taliban fighters in Kunduz province. The largest Taliban loss took place during an operation in Kunduz in early November; the Afghan military claimed 133 Taliban fighters were killed. The most high-profile event in Kunduz took place on Sept. 4, 2009, when Coalition fighters bombed fuel tankers hijacked by the Taliban; more than 60 Taliban fighters and 40 civilians were killed.
The top Taliban leaders for the two northern provinces have also been detained or killed this year. The Pakistanis reportedly detained the Taliban’s shadow governors for Kunduz and Baghlan in February. In April, the Afghan military claimed that the newly-named, replacement shadow governor for Kunduz was killed along with three aides.
Earlier this year, Baghlan was the scene of a local internecine battle between the Taliban and allied Hezb-i-Islami Gulbuddin, or HIG, which also fights against the Afghan government. Seventy HIG fighters and 50 Taliban fighters were killed in fighting in the Baghlan-e-Markazi district after disagreements arose over collecting taxes. Scores of HIG fighters defected to the government after being defeated. There is no indication, however, that the taxation dispute between the two groups that spiraled into fighting has spread beyond the Baghlan-e-Markazi district.
But despite the Taliban’s losses in the north, the group remains in firm control of several districts. The Taliban have launched an assassination campaign and have also been accused of releasing poisonous gases in girls’ schools in Kunduz. Scores of Afghan schoolgirls have been hospitalized over the past several months due to the gas attacks.