In addition to withdrawing from districts in Helmand province in mid-February, the Afghan Army has begun to leave areas in Uruzgan. On March 1, troops abandoned areas of the district of Shahidi Hassas in the neighboring Uruzgan province. A provincial spokesman indicated that troops will likely leave other districts in order to create a “a reserve battalion.” From Reuters:
Provincial government spokesman Dost Mohammad Nayab said about 100 troops and police had been pulled from checkpoints in two areas in Shahidi Hassas district and sent to the neighbouring district of Deh Rawud.
The Afghan Taliban, seeking to topple the Western-backed government in Kabul and reimpose Islamic rule 15 years after they were ousted from power, said the move, which came after heavy fighting late Monday, had left the area around the village of Yakhdan under their control.
The decision to leave the posts follows months of heavy fighting with the Taliban, who have put government forces under heavy pressure across southern Afghanistan.
“We want to create a reserve battalion in Deh Rawud, and we may ask our soldiers and policemen from other districts also to leave their checkpoints,” Nayab said.
Nayab said the withdrawal was prompted by a shortage of troops and police, worn down by combat losses and desertions. He said troop numbers in the province were about 1,000 short of their assigned strength while police were hundreds short.
“Some of them have left the army and police, some have been killed or wounded and some have surrendered to the Taliban,” he said. “We have to control situation here until we receive enough forces.”
On Feb. 29, the Taliban claimed it “completely liberated” the Khar Khordi area of Shahidi Hassas.
The Long War Journal estimates that four of Uruzgan’s six districts are heavily contested by the Taliban. Government officials have not yet stated that the entirety of Shahidi Hassas is under Taliban control, and the Taliban have not claimed that it fully controls the district.
Over the past year, the Taliban have seized control of, or contested, a number of districts in a belt that spans southwestern Herat, eastern Farah, northern and central Helmand, Uruzgan, and northwestern Kandahar (see map above). While many of these districts are in remote areas, the Taliban have historically used these safe havens to organize operations against neighboring districts and provincial capitals in southern and central Afghanistan.