Afghan forces raid another Taliban ‘prison’ in Helmand

The Afghan military raided a Taliban “prison” in Helmand province and freed 35 people, including women and children. The Taliban jail is the third in Helmand to have been targeted by Afghan forces since December 2015. The presence of Taliban prisons highlights the deteriorating security situation in Helmand, where Afghan forces are losing ground to the jihadist group.

The raid, which was executed on Feb. 26 likely by Commandos from Afghanistan’s counterterrorism unit, took place “in an area between Nad Ali and Marjah districts,” TOLONews reported.

Afghan special forces are said to have captured seven Taliban prison guards and freed “five women, 25 children and five men.” No casualties were reported.

Nad Ali is heavily contested by the Taliban, which controls most of the rural areas in the district. The Taliban is also besieging the town of Marjah, and controls most of that district. According to The Washington Post, 90 percent of Marjah is said to be Taliban controlled.

Afghan forces raided two other prisons in Helmand since early December 2015. On Dec. 3, 2015, a combined Afghan and US force “freed more than 40 prisoners comprised of Afghan Police, Afghan National Army and Afghan Border Police members” from a Taliban jail in the district of Now Zad, US Forces Afghanistan reported at the time. On Jan. 2, Afghanistan’s counterterrorism force freed 59 prisoners from another Taliban prison in the district of Nahr-i-Sarraj.

The presence of Taliban jails in a district is an ominous sign that security there has spiraled out of control. Eight weeks after Afghan forces raided the prison in Now Zad, Afghan forces abandoned their last outpost and ceded full control of the district to the Taliban. In addition, Afghan forces are struggling to maintain a foothold in the beleaguered districts of Nahr-i-Sarraj and Nad Ali.

Security in Helmand has deteriorated as the Taliban has pressed its offensive to regain the ground lost there between 2009-2011. Of Helmand’s 14 districts, five are known to be controlled by the Taliban (Now Zad, Musa Qala, Baghran, Dishu, and Khanashin), and another six are heavily contested (Nahr-i-Sarraj, Kajaki, Nad Ali, Marjah, Garmsir, and Sangin). Of the remaining three districts, The Long War Journal believes two (Washir and Nawa-i-Barak) are contested, but the situation is unclear. Only Lashkar Gah, the district that hosts the provincial capital, has not seen significant Taliban activity. But Taliban forces based in Nahr-i-Sarraj and Nad Ali are just miles from the city.

Afghan forces abandoned the districts of Now Zad and Musa Qala nine days ago. The military claimed it redeployed its forces to defend Lashkar Gah and the town of Gereshk in Nahr-i-Sarraj, however the move has ceded key ground to the Taliban.

Correction: Marjah is a district separate from Nad Ali, and the town of Marjah is its district center. The article has been updated to reflect that.

Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of The Long War Journal.

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  • Michael Duffy says:

    Marjah is its own district since 2011 (between Nad Ali and Reg-e Khan Neshin or Khanashin). Marjah district was cut out of Nad Ali and comprises about half of the area that Nad Ali did (southern half). It began as a sub-district to Nad Ali but when GIRoA created a District Center and the citizens of the sub-district held official elections for the District Center Counsel in 2011 it became its own district. The capital of Marjah district is the town of Marjah.

    For more reading :

  • Bill Roggio says:

    Michael thank you very much for clearing that up, I updated the article and the numbers accordingly. I had seen Marjah referred to as a district in multiple places but never saw that it actually happened. Now if I could only get a map with the outline for Marjah district…

    As an aside, that ISAF Media Backgrounder really highlights just how bad things have gotten in Marjah over the past 5 years.

    • Michael Duffy says:

      It is very aggravating that there is no updated map that shows Marjah District on it. I’ve been looking for the last two days. There are ton of articles about the district but none of them have a map.
      The District and surrounding districts really have fallen apart as the insurgency made Helmand their focus in the south in the last year.

      • Bill Roggio says:

        Michael, if you do happen to find a map, please let me know. Thanks for your efforts.

  • Evan says:

    My brother fought in Sangin for years, saw his best friend lose an arm, leg, and an eye in an IED blast that he barely avoided.
    How are the Marines supposed to reconcile this situation Bill?
    How are we supposed to be ok with what’s happening?
    Good men fought and died, good men gave everything they had to take this land from evil, sadistic, murderers and psychopaths who NO ONE else had the “fortitude,” to fight, and utterly defeat in battle. And now, as a “thank you,” to my brothers from the Afghan military, police, et al, they are simply walking away, giving these places back to the vile scum the U.S. Marines sacrificed so much to defeat.
    It’s unforgivable.
    Utterly unforgivable.

    • john says:

      We cant blame afghan forces for something the coalition couldnt do. Anyway there was no clear objective to begin with, so there is no way to claim a victory or administer a defeat. The war was a get rich quick scheme, show our government is invested and care for afghanistan, stay there enough to leave a puppet government that is stable enough to last for couple years more. US forces used and backed local afghans to make the taliban commit to a tactical withdrawal, where the taliban use limited resources and loss of their men to successfully sap our limites resources. That is the true art of war, not the quickie that we think are victories. I use to be shocked and wonder… are people really this ignorant on strategy, humanity, and government? I have realized that it wasnt ignorance it was purely intentional. Such a sloppy, dirty, invasion, thanks to this war afghans will fight against each other more and more… drugs will be out of control and women will suffer greatly. If you want to talk about evil, saidistic murderers look at our homeland, more evil happening than you can imagine… 36,000 murders a year more than afghan civilian casualties and mor than our war deaths.

      • Evan says:

        I don’t know John, I’ve got a pretty active imagination..
        Yes, we have problems in the states…
        Yes, I agree that most of what’s been done with regards to the wars, was and is completely intentional, either that or it’s due to abject incompetence, I tend to favor the intentional angle, it just makes more sense.
        With regards to “strategy, humanity, and government,” what would you have done differently?
        Do the problems and societal ills that we face at home, make this any less of a travesty? I know that we are not perfect, not by a long, long ways, BUT, I also know, that the United States of America is the best country on the planet, that despite our problems and issues, we are an exceptional people, a compassionate people, a loving, caring, kind people.
        Yeah, there’s plenty of bad here, there’s lots about us that just doesn’t make sense and is totally unfair, but you know what? We don’t give up, we don’t quit, we keep working, and striving to make things better, to make this place what it certainly has the potential to be.
        It’s that potential that makes us who and what we are, and it’s recognizing those possibilities and potential and working tirelessly, without complaint or excuse, to make this place, and ourselves the absolute best versions possible that makes us American.

  • Civdiv says:

    Afghanistan is a losing cause. We should have left after the first elections in 2005 when things were relatively stable. But you can’t fight a counter insurgency without an effective central government.

    • Evan says:

      Funny, I was there for those elections in 05…
      Just before the elections, we spent 34 days in the Korengal, as well as other, adjacent mountain valleys, looking for Marcus Lutrell….
      Ever see that movie, “Restrepo?” It was nuts, for me at least, to watch that show, there was one particular part of the show that really got me, in about a 2 second shot, there’s a dog, a big, white dog, with no ears, barking like crazy, chained to a stake in the ground. I remember that dog, I remember where he lives, I’ve been to his house many times, weird seeing him again.
      I don’t know if we should have left Afghanistan, or if we should’ve done things way way differently in Iraq. I feel like everybody thought the war in Afghanistan was won or something, and so it was put on the back burner, so to speak. Counter insurgencies take time, lots of time, and lots of resources. Even without a central government, I feel like it’s still very much do able, and winnable. No matter where you are, you have to have the support of the locals, EVERYONE, no matter who they are, or where they’re from, wants the same things, they want peace, and they want prosperity, and they want to be able to give their children a better life, an education, a chance at a better future. Can the Taliban provide that? Not in any way, shape, or form….but we’ve only done it to a certain extent, and I guess the idea is that once they’ve had a taste of what life can be, that they’ll choose, on their own, to side with us…..
      Complex stuff, with lots of different variables in the equation, but it “felt,” like things were on the up and up when I was there. It seemed like things were moving in the right direction….

  • Dennis says:

    Evan…..I doubt it could be said better.

  • Evan says:

    As others have stated, there really “appears,” to be a complete lack of grand strategy, or any strategy for that matter.
    At least any kind of strategy that is discernible. From where i’m sitting, it looks like the plan is to to give up, run away, leave weapons/ammo/gear behind, and then call it a “strategic redeployment of forces.” Huh?
    The ANA brought in to fight the Talibs in southern Afghanistan are primarily from other parts of the country, usually the north.
    They have as much in common with the locals culturally as we do, and judging from their steady string of defeats all across the country, they have absolutely no will to fight. They want to make a deal, like the British.
    “Ok Taliban, you stay over there, and we’ll stay over here, we won’t patrol, we won’t harass you or bother you in any way, you can have the district, the local population is all yours, all we want is to stay in our bases, behind our walls, and collect a check from the Afghan Gov….”
    Think not?

  • pat says:

    Evan, you’re not the first soldier to say that and you will not be last.

    • Evan says:

      No offense, but I’m no soldier,
      I earned my title, and wether I’m serving or not, I’ll always be a Marine.
      Does the fact that I’m not the first, or the last, make this travesty any more bearable?
      No, not really. In fact, it may make it even less so, given that we, as a nation and a people really ought to have learned these lessons by now.
      I think that’s due several different factors, the Vietnam generation learned these lessons, but it didn’t really trickle down so to speak, it got lost in the maze of history, and the constant conflicts that our country has engaged in, that, and my generation is so overwhelmingly stupid, self centered, entitled, and ignorant, that nothing outside of their immediate experiences is deemed valuable enough to study, learn and apply.
      It’s a shame.


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