Taliban takes key district in Helmand province

The Taliban seized the district of Sangin in southern Helmand province, forcing Afghan troops to withdrawal and Coalition forces to launch airstrikes to destroy bases and government facilities left behind. Sangin has been a battleground in Helmand for several years and has exchanged hands multiple times.

In a statement released on Voice of Jihad, the Taliban said that it controls the “Sangin district administration center, police headquarter and a key military base” after the district center was “completely overrun by Mujahideen of Islamic Emirate last night.”

According to the Taliban, Afghan forces “fled by airplanes overnight, leaving many tanks, vehicles, heavy artillery and a sizable amount of military equipment behind.” The group claimed that 39 armored personnel carriers, one tank, 34 pickup trucks and other vehicles and equipment were taken during the assault.

“[The] Enemy has bombarded the said installations after escaping,” the Taliban claimed.

The Taliban’s update from Sangin cannot be independently verified by FDD’s Long War Journal, but their claims can largely be substantiated by press reporting from Afghanistan. TOLONews reported that “security forces moved all their equipment out on Wednesday night before the air force bombed the installations in order to destroy them.”

While the spokesman for Helmand’s governor denied Sangin was overrun, “local Afghan government and military officials said there was no doubt Sangin had finally fallen to their enemy,” The New York Times noted.

The Taliban had previously overran Sangin’s district center in July 2016, but Afghan forces – backed by US air support – pushed the jihadists to the outskirts of the town.

Afghan security forces have telegraphed their weakness to the Taliban for several years. In Aug. 2014, senior officers attempted to negotiate a “peace deal” in Sangin, which was overrun by the Taliban in June of that year.

The security situation in Sangin is a microcosm of that in Helmand. All of the southern province is an active battleground. In Helmand, the Taliban now controls seven of the province’s 14 districts (Baghran, Dishu, Khanashin, Now Zad, Nawa, Musa Qala, and Sangin) and contests another six, including the provincial capital (Lashkar Gah, Nahr-i-Sarraj, Kajaki, Nad Ali, Marjah, and Garmsir), according to data compiled by FDD’s Long War Journal. The status of Washir district is uncertain as new reports from the district are scarce. Nearly all of Helmand has been controlled or influenced/contested for well over a year.

The situation in Helmand is so bleak that the Taliban has effectively surrounded the provincial capital of Lashkar Gah for well over a year, and have launched several forays into the city. Two days ago, a suicide bomber killed eight Afghan security personnel in an attack in the capital. The Taliban have also launched major attacks in the district. In Oct. 2016, the Taliban ambushed a large convoy of Afghan troops after they negotiated their safe passage from their base on the outskirts of Lashkar Gah. More than 200 Afghan troops were killed, wounded, captured, or surrendered. [See LWJ report, Taliban details deadly ambush of Afghan military convoy.]

As the Taliban has ramped up pressure in Helmand, it has also increased its footprint throughout Afghanistan. FDD’s Long War Journal has identified 45 Afghan districts under the Afghan jihadist group’s control, and another 55 that are heavily contested. The number of Taliban controlled and influenced/contested districts has risen from 70 in Oct. 2015 to 100 this month.

This assessment has been verified by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), which noted last month that the Afghan government “has lost territory to the insurgency” and “district control continues to decline.” According to SIGAR, the Afghan government controls or influences just 52 percent of the nation’s districts today compared to 72 percent in Nov. 2015. An estimated 15 percent of Afghanistan’s districts have slipped from the government’s control over the past six months. [See FDD’s Long War Journal report, Afghan government ‘has lost territory to the insurgency’.]

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

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4 Comments

  • Frank Dunn says:

    The military situation in Afghanistan might be measurable by the number of Afghan refugees entering Europe. If there are an increasing numbers of refugees and they include interpreters, government officials and military officers, then this might indicate how perilous the situation is for Kabul. Not sure what US or UN agency tracks refugees by nationality, but the data should be available for analysis.

    Secretary of Defense Mattis’ concern over the temporary travel ban on Afghani citizens who assisted the US military could indicate that the situation is far worse than we realize.

    • Arjuna says:

      We need to ask Pakistan’s ISI what the Afghan Taliban’s plans are. They (ISI) are the only ones who know. We (America) are/were at war with the ISI in AfPak and the way I see it, the enemy still has intact leadership and holds ground, so I’d say DoD is losing to the ISI, most bigly. Mattis is just a boy w a finger in the dyke unless we change tack on PK.

    • irebukeu says:

      Reject all refugees from Afghanistan. The ones that helped the US coalition will be needed right there to fight the Taliban. They will not have one chance in one million if we leave and take the western friendly ones with us. The Florida shooting should explain well enough why you don’t take them with you. We would be better off with them there. Its time to exit Afghanistan.

  • Tyler Smith says:

    Hmmm… a very one sided report. The Afghanistan government released statements specifically detailing that the government centre of Sangin had bee moved on purpose, in a specifically planned activity, 3 miles down the road….nothing like undermining the country we are putting a lot of hard work and effort into supporting

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