Afghan military abandons district in Helmand

Map detailing Taliban-controlled or contested districts. Click colored district for information. Map created by Bill Roggio, Caleb Weiss, and Patrick Megahan.

The Afghan military withdrew its remaining combat forces from the district of Musa Qala in Helmand province today after battling the Taliban there for nearly a year. The district is now firmly under the control of the Taliban.

The Afghan Army commander in charge of the fighting in Helmand characterized the Army’s withdrawal from Musa Qala as a redeployment of forces.

“Their presence in the area [in Musa Qala] did not mean anything,” Mohammad Moeen Faqir, the commander of 215th Corps told Reuters. “We will use them in battle with enemies in other parts of Helmand province.”

According to Reuters, Faqir said the beleaguered troops who were based in Musa Qala will be relocated to the town of Gereshk in Nahr-i-Sarraj district in Helmand, where the Taliban is pressing an offensive to take over the central part of the province.

The Afghan military’s retreat from Helmand means the Taliban is now fully in control of the district. The Long War Journal previously assessed Musa Qala as being under Taliban control, as Afghan forces were confined to a few bases and according to Afghan press reports, the Taliban was controlling and administering key areas of the district, including government buildings and the bazaar.

Musa Qala has switched hands between Coalition and Afghan forces and the Taliban several times over the past decade. In September 2006, the British made a secret deal with the Taliban that ultimately led to the Taliban controlling the district. The district center switched hands several times between 2007 up until US forces surged in Helmand in late 2009. [See LWJ report, The checkered history of Musa Qala.]

When US forces began withdrawing from Helmand in 2011, the Taliban immediately restarted offensive operations in Musa Qala and the surrounding districts. Security in Helmand has spiraled out of control as the Taliban has pressed its offensive to regain the ground lost there between 2009-2011. Of Helmand’s 13 districts, five are known to be controlled by the Taliban (Nowzad, Musa Qala, Baghran, Dishu, and Khanashin), and another five are heavily contested (Nahr-i-Sarraj, Kajaki, Nad Ali, 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.

US and British special operations forces have been deployed to Helmand since the summer of 2015 to support the struggling Afghan forces. Most recently, the US deployed an additional 500 Special Forces advisers to oppose the Taliban. However, the reintroduction of US and British forces in Helmand has not prevented the districts of Nowzad and Musa Qala from falling to the Taliban.

Outside of Helmand, the Taliban has significantly expanded its influence in the past year. The Taliban now controls 38 districts in Afghanistan and contests another 40, according to data compiled by The Long War Journal. These numbers may be low given the methodology used to assess control in contested districts.

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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  • Jim Campbell says:

    If they won’t fight to save their country, what are we doing there.
    Thanks I post virtually everything you send on my site. J.C.

    • john says:

      They are fighting, if coalition forces couldnt handle Helmand for 10 years why are we blaming these guys…

  • Richard says:

    “God helps those that help themselves
    He will help only those who help themselves
    He cannot help those who do not help themselves
    Outsiders can contribute but cannot win an unconventional war by themselves.”
    –Douglas Pike

    Force protection, casualty avoidance and massive forward operating bases (FOBs) have prevented us from engaging the population in an effort to move them toward support of legitimate government. Our material excesses and willingness to pour billions of dollars into ill-conceived and poorly managed projects have enlarged the scope for graft and corruption. We had no exit strategy and we were not willing to put the resources in to fix it.

  • Bobbyd says:

    Looking at the controlled districts on your map, many of the sources are from the taliban’s website, twitter accounts, or western media accounts of kidnappings or killings in that district. Are these sites the only sources for declaring a district center “under Taliban control”?

    • Bill Roggio says:


      Read the following for how we do this and let me know if you have any questions. The short answer is that Taliban claims have been credible and are almost always backed by press reports:

      • Bobbyd says:


        I appreciate the reply, but I have a hard time believing that if these districts have fallen into Taliban hands that they were able to maintain possession of them. If the ANA are stretched thin, how is it that the Taliban aren’t the same? Quite honestly though, you are the only open source game in town, so I understand the challenges that you face with maintaining an accurate picture. The rest of the world has moved on, and are only interested when its convenient for political points. Thanks again.

        • Bill Roggio says:

          Thanks Bobby. I wouldn’t be surprised if some of the controlled districts are now contested, some of the contested are controlled, and there are others that we haven’t even seen reported that are contested or controlled that are not on this map. It is a best effort. And a difficult one.

          • Jon Z says:

            The ANA is far from ideal in terms of morale, corruption and organization. Even with large numbers and significant equipment, they struggle to coordinate and frequently alienate the locals they should be protecting.

            While the Taliban and other groups are far from a well oiled machine, it is plausible that the ANA is stretched far more tightly than the Taliban.

  • mb says:

    We all knew it was going to happen when we were over there – guess I can scratch that period of my life off. SF advisers can’t counter gross ANP incapability or the ANA’s tearful levels of incompetence.

    • Jon Z says:


      What’s more we did the same thing with similar result in Vietnam. Then as now, your career takes a hit if you say the locals aren’t ready and that they won’t be. Then we pretend we are surprised when locals fail in the face of what should be an inferior adversary.

      This speaks more to domestic us politics. It may be that Americans in general aren’t a people that can stomach a protracted conflict, regardless of its intensity. What leader can say “we will intervene in the Republic of Blank, and our grand children will finish the campaign. “? As long as the public thinks fights can be fought and won quickly, we will keep losing.

      Of course, I base my statements on nothing at all and leave myself open to criticism.

  • muhammad shoaib says:

    USA spent 1000 billion dollars in afghanistan and if there was no cooperation from pakistan,then 7000 billion dollars must have been needed and triple number of required soldiers. This was US-Taliban war and pakistan took enmity with taliban for US sake and result is peanut amount 05 billion dollars were given to pakistan in 10 years and pakistan suffered 100 billion dollars loss of investment due to attacks by taliban because of taking side USA.

    • Jon Z says:

      We all favor simplification of complex issues. This is nothing to be ashamed of. We all do it. I do it too.

      It is certainly true that a lot of Pakistanis have died at the hands of the Taliban and that most Americans are unaware of their loss. A look at Pakistan’s history in Warziristan shows that, at very least, there is something odd going on with regard to the government’s relationship to the tribal areas on the afpak frontier.

      Honestly, Pakistan is dealing with the legacy of its own, regional policy. So is the US. The question is how to move on from here.

    • G says:

      Funny…reminds me of President Haq referring to President Carter’s $400 million as “peanuts”. Seems the precedent was set long ago but there’s still plenty of juice left in that lemon. Let’s be real here….Pakistan ISI has it’s own issues and their funneling of $$$ into Afghanistan and Taliban for decades isn’t exactly a small issue with regard to destabilization. The US worked it’s way into a conundrum because any time there was talk of a decrease in US tax payers $$$ being airdropped over Pakistan, Musharraf would suddenly proclaim full stop on counter-terrorism cooperation. Nation-state distortion is all that was. Pakistan should be happy they remained in the US top three foreign aid recipients for as long as they have been.

  • Bill Roggio says:

    This comment is for Frankie: If you weren’t so confrontational and, frankly, a jerk, I would publish your comments, and I would give you an answer. Additionally, we have explained what we consider to be contested and controlled multiple times. And we do update the map regularly based on information as we receive it.

    You can take your attitude elsewhere, it is not welcome here.


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