The Taliban has denied reports from Afghanistan’s Ministry of Interior that police forces killed the Taliban’s shadow governor for the northern province of Sar-i-Pul. To be fair, the Afghan government has a historically spotty track record when reporting on the deaths of Taliban commanders.
The Ministry of Interior claimed it killed Mullah Attaullah (Mawlawi Najibullah), the shadow governor, and 10 other Taliban fighters on the morning of Nov. 17 outside of Sar-i-Pul city, according to TOLONews:
“The so-called governor Najibullah known as Ataullah was involved in many terrorist and destructive activities in Sar-e-Pul province,” the statement said, adding that with the “elimination of this group, the security situation in this province is expected to improve.”
The Taliban, in an official statement on its website, Voice of Jihad, denied that Attaullah was killed, and instead claimed he was leading operations in the province. Additionally, the Taliban said it has taken control of areas in Sayyad district, which borders the provincial capital:
Reports say, puppet administration officials as usual have claimed that they have martyred Islamic Emirate’s governor of Saripul province along with other Mujahideens, we strongly reject these claims. The respected governor of Saripul province is very much safe and is leading the battle frontline against enemy.
According to another report, area of Dariband in Sayyad district which was under tight besiege of Mujahideen since yesterday afternoon hours was overrun early night after forcing the enemy to flee. It is worth mentioning that key area of Bazar Kami in Sayyad district was also overrun by Mujahideen overnight.
The Taliban controls at least one district in Sar-i-Pul (Kohistanat) and contests another (Somza), according to an assessment by FDD’s Long War Journal. The Afghan government admitted that Kohistanat district was under Taliban control in July 2016.
The Taliban identified Mullah Attaullah as its shadow governor of Sar-i-Pul in Aug. 2015.
While it is exceedingly difficult to assess the status of Taliban commanders based on the claims of the Afghan government and the Taliban, particularly after the Taliban was exposed for hiding Mullah Omar’s death for more than two years, the Taliban maintains a better track record. The Taliban frequently rebuts government claims by releasing audio of its commanders denying their deaths.
For instance, the Afghanistan government has claimed it killed Mullah Salam, the Taliban’s shadow governor for Kunduz, multiple times. When the government said it killed Salam, whose forces took control of Kunduz City for two weeks, in the fall of 2015, the Taliban responded by publishing an interview the shadow governor.