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.