The Taliban continues to press its offensive on multiple fronts in the Afghan north, taking control of Kohistanat district in the once calm province of Sar-i-Pul after a police commander and his officers defected to the jihadist group. According to the Taliban, its forces “raised the white flag of [the] Islamic Emirate” over the district headquarters and other government buildings earlier today.
The Taliban overran Kohistanat after launching its assault on July 26. The fall of the northern district was confirmed by a member of Sar-i-Pul’s provincial council, a police spokesman, and the Taliban.
Both Afghan officials and the Taliban said that a local police commander and his officers defected to the Taliban at the opening of the fighting. An “Afghan Local Police [ALP] officer together with seven of his men joined [the] Taliban,” Khaama Press reported. The ALP officer had previously been linked to the Taliban, a police spokesman said. According to a Taliban statement released on Voice of Jihad, “a key Arbaki commander – Hassan – made contact and joined up with Mujahideen along with 100 fully armed men” on July 26. Arbaki are local tribal militias that often back the government in its fight against the Taliban.
The Taliban first noted on July 26 that it overran “a strategic enemy outpost – Qala Sharekah” and its fighters were “making way towards the district center.” Today, the jihadist group announced that the “Mujahideen raised the white flag of Islamic Emirate over the district HQ, police HQ and other buildings while seizing 13 enemy vehicles and a sizable amount of arms and ammunition.”
The fall of Kohistanat is the latest in a string of Taliban victories in the Afghan north. Late last week, the jihadist group overran a base and several outposts in the Warduj district in Badakhshan. According to Afghan officials, the district is under virtual Taliban control. In Kunduz province, the Taliban controls at least three districts and three more are said to be heavily contested.
Sar-i-Pul province is a known stronghold for the Taliban and the allied Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), which is closely linked to both the Taliban and al Qaeda. The capabilities of the Taliban in Sar-i-Pul could be seen in October 2014, when its fighters ambushed an Afghan military convoy and killed 22 security personnel.
The Taliban began to expand their operations in Sar-i-Pul and other northern provinces as US forces began to “surge” in the Afghan south in 2010. By late 2010, between 500 to 600 Taliban and foreign fighters, including Arab, Uzbek, and Pakistani jihadists, were reported to be operating in the province, particularly in the district of Kohistanat.
In early 2011, the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) noted the location of Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan-linked suicide camps in both Sar-i-Pul and in the neighboring province of Samangan when it announced that a raid targeted “a key power player” in the Afghan north.
ISAF said at the time that the targeted jihadist was “assessed to have ties to foreign fighter facilitation and suicide training camps operating in Sar-i-Pul province,” and personally commanded an estimated 60 Taliban fighters. ISAF used the term “foreign fighters” to describe al Qaeda operatives and members of affiliated terror groups operating in Afghanistan.
The IMU-linked commander was not captured, and both the IMU and the Taliban continue to maintain a presence in Sar-i-Pul and elsewhere in the Afghan north.