Provincial map of Jawzjan province with approximated zones of command for the Taliban’s Jawzjan Province Military Commission, August 2011. Map from the United Nations, approximation by The Long War Journal.
On April 30, the Taliban announced the launch of their 2011 military offensive, Operation Badr, in which the insurgent movement seeks to “attack foreign troops, members of their spy networks, high-ranking government officials, and members of the cabinet and parliament.” The Taliban indicated that the tactics used in Operation Badr would consist of “utilizing all proven military tactics — including the usage of advanced weapons against the air and ground forces of the invaders, hit-and-run attacks, group offensives, city attacks, advanced explosive attacks, and effective group and martyrdom seeking attacks by our warrior Mujahedeen,” according to a Taliban-issued statement that was obtained by The Long War Journal.
A closer examination of the Taliban’s summer campaign in the relatively unwatched northern province of Jawzjan, which has borne the brunt of a growing Taliban-led insurgency there, follows below.
A series of violent clashes between security forces and a burgeoning local Taliban-led insurgency has spiked this year, resulting in the deaths of scores of civilians, insurgents, and Afghan security personnel and government officials.
During the first week of May, a senior Swedish military commander working in conjunction with the Swedish provincial reconstruction team in the northern provinces of Balkh, Jawzjan, Samangan, and Sar-e-Pul told The Local that since the Taliban’s commencement of Operation Badr, “the state of readiness has been raised and is now at a significantly higher level than it was just a few weeks ago.” At present, Sweden’s commitment to NATO’s International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) is slated to end by December of this year.
Throughout 2010, the Taliban fought hard to expand their militant networks and political influence throughout the ethnically diverse north, mostly from northern sanctuaries outside state control in the provinces of Kunduz, Baghlan, Badghis, and Faryab. These networks, which were established most robustly in Kunduz and Baghlan, incubated further west and penetrated the core of the northern zone (the provinces of Jawzjan, Sar-e-Pul, and Balkh) by late 2010.
In April 2011, Qari Muhammad Ismail al Sirjaji, then Taliban shadow governor for Jawzjan province, claimed that his fighters had freedom of movement in five of Jawzjan’s eight districts, minus the district centers. One of these districts, Khawaja Du Khoh, is the home area of Uzbek militia commander General Abdul Rashid Dostum, a powerful and potent political force whose influence spans across most of northwestern Afghanistan.
Some of Dostum’s former commanders remain in charge of some official government positions as well as informal security positions. Among this group of commanders are Zadir Badashah and Commanders Naseem and Faqir, all of whom are based out of Shiberghan, and Commander Haja Nakur, a militia commander who was killed while fighting insurgents earlier this year.
Taliban’s regional strategy
The Taliban military structure in Jawzjan is organized into three main fronts, or lines of effort, which also reflect the areas and districts that remain contested or outside the control of the local government. The Taliban have exploited administrative weaknesses of both the central government and of NATO, by operating in remote and rugged districts where logistical challenges for government functioning intersect with security gaps in NATO force designations (between Faryab and Jawzjan, for instance).
The Taliban’s western mahaz (front) for Jawzjan incorporates Taliban cadres operating in the Darzab and Qosh Tapah districts, as well as the mountainous areas near Sherbergan located between Faryab and Sar-e-Pul provinces. The Taliban claim that their western mahaz is comprised entirely of Turkomen and Uzbek fighters, with only one Pashtun cell operating between Qosh Tapah and Darzab, a demographic allegedly replicated among their other Jawzjan mahaz as well.
The central mahaz is responsible for the areas north of Shebergan, and interestingly, the southern mahaz is responsible for Sayyad district of Sar-e-Pul province and the Bilchiragh district of Faryab province.
Most of the heavy fighting during this year’s Taliban spring and summer offensive in Jawzjan has occurred in the Qosh Tapa and Darzab districts of southern Jawzjan — a natural chokepoint that narrowly separates Jawzjan from neighboring Faryab (to the west) and Sar-i-Pul (to the east) provinces. Several of the hardest hit areas of Darzab include the (Kata) Tash village, Yam Bash, Bibi Maryam, Ashur Qul, and Artcho, with at least 31 militants and Afghan security personnel killed in these villages since April 11.
In the Qosh Tapa district, major security offensives were launched by Afghan forces against the Taliban in the villages of Traghli Afghania, Houz Bibi, Shoor Qadoq, Shirpak, and Garan and against the Taliban-controlled village of al Malik, a strategic town that lies on the border between Faryab, Sar-e-Pul, and Jawzjan. According to residents, the village of al Malik has been fought over fiercely for the past two years, with control wavering between the Taliban and the government. Provincial authorities say that at least 18 Taliban and IMU affiliates were killed in clashes in these villages between April 9 and 11, including two top Taliban leaders for Jawzjan, Mawlawi Nematullah and his deputy Mawlawi Lutfullah. The Taliban are also active in the Chapma Chaqore village of Qosh Tapa, where they reportedly extort road travelers and kidnap others for ransom.
In these areas, the Taliban rely heavily upon IEDs as well as targeted assassinations, the occasional ambush, and the rare swarm attack. On June 24, two senior district officials and three policemen were killed, and two other policemen were injured, when their vehicle struck a roadside bomb emplaced by the Taliban. According to a report filed by Pajhwok News, the Mangjak district police chief, Haq Nazar; the district attorney, Agha Guldi; and three policemen were all killed in the blast, which took place in village of Sheikh-raz.
Three months earlier, a Taliban ambush against a government convoy killed the Qosh Tapa district chief and nine policemen as they traveled through the district. And on May 11, the Taliban launched a swarm attack against Abdur Rahman village, sending upwards of 100 fighters traveling on motorbikes to disrupt a village jirga that was discussing the opportunity to partake in a local defense force initiative known as the Afghan Local Police. At least one villager and 17 militants were killed in the failed assault.
Suicide bombings are not yet a prevalent feature throughout the Jawzjan battle space.
The Taliban’s campaign to eliminate the most powerful anti-Taliban security commanders during Operation Badr has significantly altered the national balance of power. Taliban-initiated assassinations have removed some of the most powerful commanders in charge of securing northern Afghanistan – including General Daud Daud, a former Shura-e Nazar field commander and close confidant of the legendary guerilla leader Ahmad Shah Massoud – as well as a number of Daud’s close subordinates. At the time of his death, General Daud served as the Afghan National Police Pamir Zone Commander, an Afghan government regional security command that includes most of northern Afghanistan.
Shah Jahan Noori, another former Shura-e Nazar field commander and deputy to General Daud, was killed in the same attack in Takhar that killed Daud on May 28. Shah Jahan Noori served as the provincial police chief of Takhar at the time of his death. And on March 10, a suicide bomber killed Abdur Rehman Saidkhili, another former Shura-e Nazar commander, as he and 50 policemen conducted an operation in Kunduz City. Saidkhilli served as the chief of police for Kunduz and was a highly regarded anti-Taliban ally of General Daud Daud.
Last October, an improvised explosive device killed the longstanding governor of Kunduz province, Engineer Mohammad Omar, as he and scores of others were praying at a mosque in Takhar province.
The Taliban have taken credit for all of these assassinations in northern Afghanistan. US and Afghan security forces believe the Taliban cadres in northern Afghanistan are directed by the Quetta Shura, and that the north has been delegated to the Taliban Northern War Zone Commission — an alliance comprised of fighters and commanders from the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, the Haqqani Network, local Turkomen fighters, Taliban-e-Khraj (“foreign Taliban fighters”), and Pakistani Taliban members.
Funding for the Taliban in Jawzjan is obtained primarily through criminal activity, mainly kidnapping for ransom and extortion. The overall Taliban command structure in Jawzjan remains small, and the cadres consist mostly of local fighters opposed to either the government or the Uzbek militia of General Abdul Rashid Dostum, or to both. According the former Taliban governor of Jawzjan province, most of the Taliban in the province are ethnic Turkomen and Uzbeks, with only a small fraction of Pashtuns engaging in the insurgency there. The current deputy shadow governor, Maluvi Shamsullah, is said to be an Uzbek.
The Taliban’s command structure further east, which is based in Kunduz and Baghlan, provides resources and logistics for the insurgency in Jawzjan. These Taliban leaders also have ties to the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan leadership in South Waziristan, Pakistan, as well as the Quetta Shura Taliban.
Just prior to the Taliban’s public declaration announcing the start of Operation Badr, Afghan and NATO security forces launched a series of preemptive security offensives against the Taliban networks operating in Jawzjan province. Operation Wahdat (Unity), the most significant combined security operation in Jawzjan so far this year, took place during the first two weeks of April. Afghan and NATO forces cleared several Taliban-held villages in the Qosh Tapa and Darzab districts by using ground and air assets to engage large groups of Taliban fighters.
During the ensuing operation, Afghan authorities claimed to have killed a number of high-ranking and mid-level Taliban and IMU-affiliated commanders, including: senior Taliban leader Mawlawi Nematullah (an Uzbek) and his deputy Mawlawi Lutfullah; Commander Damullah; Commander Hashmatullah; Mullah Sharif; Qari Shamsul Haq; and a low-level fighter named Ahmadullah. The Taliban have vehemently denied that commander Nematullah and Malawli Lutfullah were killed in combat.
On April 14, a special air operation killed another senior Taliban strategic planner in Jawzjan, Maulvi Qudus, in the Darzab district. According to ISAF, Qudus led Taliban operations in the Qosh Tapa district and was a strategic planner, directing funding for operations and IED emplacement. On July 30, Afghan security forces launched an operation in the Darzab district, in which Mawlawi Abdul Ahmad, Taliban’s shadow district governor, was killed along with two others.
ISAF continues to maintain both a kinetic and a development presence in Jawzjan. On July 22, 2010, Turkey opened its second Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) in Afghanistan, located in Jawzjan’s population center of Shibergan. Prior to last July, the Swedish PRT area of operations included Jawzjan, Samangan, Sar-e-Pul, and Balkh provinces. Turkey is now in charge of reconstruction and development efforts in the province, as well as mentoring Afghan National Police personnel stationed in Jawzjan. The Afghan security chief for Jawzjan is the provincial chief of police, Brigadier General Abdul Aziz Ghayriat, a Tajik who has held the position for the past few years. Security operations are expected to continue throughout the summer and early autumn while the weather remains moderate.
It will be imperative to coordinate security operations with neighboring Balkh province, recently transitioned to Afghan National Security Forces, in order to prevent the Taliban from effectively establishing safe havens and sympathy networks that can be used to stage urban terror attacks against one of Afghanistan’s last remaining calm urban centers, Mazar-i-Sharif.
Chronology of attacks in Jawzjan: March – August 2011:
Aug. 5: Residents claimed that a combined ANSF and NATO attack killed 20 Taliban fighters and left one Afghan policemen dead in the village of Artcho in Darzab district. Afghan police launched a follow-on operation in the al Malik village to clear it of Taliban fighters. Source: Pajhwok Afghan News.
July 30: ANSF launched an operation in the Darzab district in which Mawlawi Abdul Ahmad, Taliban’s shadow district governor, and two others were killed. Source: Tolo News.
July 29: Seven militants were killed in an eight-hour clash with police in the Ashur Qul area of Darzab district. A Taliban commander, Qari Roohullah Zarqawi, surrendered to the authorities along with four associates after the engagement. Source: Pajhwok Afghan News.
July 26: During a security operation in Qosh Tapa district, an Afghan-led security force killed two insurgents. The security force conducted the operation to disrupt Taliban activity in the district, and followed intelligence leads to locate several insurgents maneuvering in the area. Two insurgents were killed in the operation, and the force confiscated a machine gun, an AK-47 assault rifle, grenades, and a chest rack. Source: ISAF.
July 25: In Darzab district, an Afghan-led security force killed two Taliban insurgents and detained two other insurgents during a security search for a Taliban roadside bomb cell operating in the district that was carrying out attacks against Afghan National Security Forces. During the search, the security force noticed several insurgents attempting to flee; two were killed, and two others were detained at associated locations. Source: ISAF.
July 15: A combined Afghan and ISAF force detained two suspected insurgents during an overnight security operation targeting a Taliban leader in Qosh Tapah district. The leader is the Taliban-appointed governing official for operations in Jawzjan and conducts attacks against Afghan forces. The Afghan-led security force followed several intelligence reports to a compound in the area, where they searched for the leader and associated insurgents. During the search, the force detained two individuals with suspected ties to Taliban activity. Source: ISAF.
July 12: A combined Afghan and ISAF security force detained one individual with suspected ties to the Taliban during a security operation in Darzab district. The Afghan-led security force detained the individual based on information provided during interviews with residents at a compound. The force was in the area searching for a Taliban leader who is responsible for providing weapons and support to other Taliban leaders in the district. Source: ISAF.
July 11: Three Taliban fighters and a local policeman were killed in two separate clashes; the policeman was killed in Darzab district. Source: Pajhwok Afghan News.
June 28: Four Taliban fighters and as many civilians were killed during a clash with police in the Mardyan district. The Taliban were searching civilian vehicles in the area when police attempted to stop them. The Taliban used civilians as human shields, and the ensuing violence killed four Taliban fighters and four civilians, including a woman and a child, and left four other civilians injured. “I was traveling from Balkh to Qarqin district of Jawzjan when the Taliban, covering their heads, pulled over three vehicles in Farod Qala area of Mardyan district,” said Sharifullah, who was injured in the incident. Source: Pajhwok Afghan News.
June 23: Two senior district officials and three policemen were killed, and two other policemen were injured, when their vehicle struck a roadside bomb. The Mangjak district police chief, Haq Nazar, and the district attorney, Agha Guldi, and three policemen were killed in the blast that took place in the Sheikh Rad village. Source: Pajhwok Afghan News.
June 17: A tribal elder was killed in a Taliban ambush in Mangjak district. Another person was injured when the Taliban opened fire at the elder’s car on his way home in the Aqmaidan village. Source: Pajhwok Afghan News.
June 14: Taliban militants have been extorting heavy ransoms from residents in return for releasing captives, residents alleged. “The Taliban abducted a teacher, named Arif, from his house last week and demand 200,000 afghanis ($4,300) in ransom,” a resident of the Sherbaik area in Qosh Tapa district said. Bismillah said Arif’s aged mother borrowed 50,000 afs from area people to secure the release of her son from Taliban captivity. The rebels, who previously collected zakat and usher from shepherds and growers, are now kidnapping people and government employees for ransom, he claimed. “They are harassing people on one pretext or another,” said Khairullah (not his real name), another resident of the Bato village of Darz Aab district. Haji Rahman, a dweller of Mughul village, was kidnapped along with his friend last week. They were freed after paying 100,000 afs in ransom, he added. The town’s administrative head, Aminullah, acknowledged that the militants had become a nuisance for the people of remote areas of Qosh Tapa. They allegedly got passengers off vehicles in the Chapma Chaqore village and were wresting money from them. Source: Pajhwok Afghan News.
June 13: A Taliban commander was detained during an operation by Afghan and NATO-led soldiers. The predawn raid was conducted in the Yam Bash area of Darzab district. Mullah Naqibullah, the rebel commander, was detained with a pistol and a wireless, and was taken to a military base of foreign troops. Rahim Dad, a resident of the area, said they heard helicopter flying over Naqibullah’s house around midnight. Source: Pajhwok Afghan News.
May 23: In Sayad district, Sar-e-Pul province, a combined Afghan and coalition security force detained several suspected insurgents during a security operation. The leader is the acting Taliban appointed governing official of Jawzjan province, and he conducts attacks against Afghan National Security Forces. Additionally, the leader facilitates, plans and coordinates improvised explosive device activity in the province. The security force targeted a compound in Sayad district, where they called for all occupants to exit the buildings peacefully. Once all civilians were secured, the force, led by Afghan soldiers, searched and cleared the compound and conducted interviews with residents. Several individuals with Taliban activity ties were detained for further questioning. Source: ISAF.
May 13: A joint Afghan and ISAF force captured a Taliban leader during a security operation in Shibirghan district. The Taliban leader conducted attacks against Afghan and coalition forces. He also facilitated, planned, and coordinated improvised explosive device activity in the province. The combined security force was alerted to the leader’s location by opportune intelligence tips. They isolated the area and secured the area peacefully without the use of force. The insurgent facilitator was immediately identified and detained after the force searched the compound. Source: ISAF.
May 11: A large Taliban formation, estimated at more than 100 fighters strong riding on motorcycles, attacked the Abdur Rahman village, whose leaders had sought to join the much-maligned Afghan Local Police program [see LWJ report, Afghan Local Police vital to General Petraeus’ strategy, for more information on this force]. The villagers in Abduraman fought the attackers themselves until reinforcements arrived in the form of Afghan police and army and NATO air support. At the end of the fighting, one villager and 17 militants were dead. Among the dead militants was a local Taliban commander who had planned bombings and attacks in the region. Source: The Long War Journal.
April 11: Maulvi Qudus, the Taliban leader for northern Jawzjan province, was killed along with a number of associates during a joint Afghan-ISAF operation in Darzab district, the NATO- force reported. Several suspected insurgents were detained. Qudus led Taliban operations in the Qosh Tapa district and was a strategic planner, directing funding for operations and IED emplacement. After being engaged by several armed individuals, the combined force responded to fire, killing the individuals. As they moved to isolate the building, the soldiers came in contact with another armed individual, who was also killed. Source: Pajwhok Afghan News.
April 2011: Seven Taliban fighters, including a senior commander, were killed in a clash with a joint Afghan-ISAF force. The Taliban commander, Maulvi Lutfullah, was among the seven fighters killed in Bibi Maryam village of Durzab district. Since the launch of the counterinsurgency operation in the Durzab and Qosh Tapa districts three days ago, 26 Taliban militants have been killed and three policemen injured, but no civilian casualties have been reported. Both the districts were completely cleared of insurgents, with the rest of districts being searched for insurgents’ presence in cooperation with imams and tribal elders. However, a Taliban spokesman, Zabihullah Mujahid, denied any of their commanders was killed, and claimed that Maulvi Lutfullah and Maulvi Nimatullah were alive. Source: Pajhwok Afghan News.
April 8: As many as 18 Taliban fighters were killed in a clash with a joint Afghan-ISAF force as the joint troops moved toward a militant hideout in the Bibi Mariam village of Darzab district. The operation, involving personnel from Afghan police, army, intelligence, and NATO soldiers, was ongoing in Qosh Tapa and Darzab districts over the past three days. Darzab district was cleared of insurgents, with the joint forces continuing their advance toward areas where the insurgents are operating. Source: Pajhwok Afghan News.
March 29: ISAF forces raided Taliban hideouts in Traghli Afghania village of Qosh Tapa district, killing one Taliban fighter and detaining four others, including the Taliban governor, Ihsanullah. During the operation, international forces first bombed the area then searched for militants. The detainees were taken to the US air base in Bagram. ISAF confirmed that one insurgent was killed and several others were detained in the operation. Source: Pajhwok Afghan News.