The Afghan National Army sustained more than 50 percent casualties as the Taliban assaulted a military base in Khakrez, a contested district in the southern province of Kandahar. The Taliban has been hitting Afghan military bases in northern Kandahar hard since the end of the spring in an effort to regain control of areas lost during the US surge between 2009 and 2011.
The Taliban attacked the base overnight and killed 26 Afghan soldiers and wounded 13 more, the Ministry of Defense confirmed, according to TOLONews. Additionally, eight more soldiers are reported as missing and presumably captured by the Taliban. Fifty-seven of the 82 soldiers stationed at the base were killed, wounded or captured during the fighting.
Afghan officials claim the base is still under the control of the military. The Taliban, in a statement released on its official website, Voice of Jihad, claimed it “overran” the base and killed 70 soldiers and captured six more. Additionally, it claimed to destroy four armored vehicles and three pickup trucks, and captured another armored vehicle as well as weapons and ammunition.
The Taliban has attacked several bases in contested districts in northern Kandahar since the beginning of May in an effort to weaken and drive out Afghan forces from the area. Scores of Afghan troops have been killed in the fighting. [See FDD’s Long War Journal report, Taliban attacks another base in Kandahar.]
The Taliban is successfully utilizing safe havens in the remote areas of Kandahar, Helmand, Uruzgan, Ghazni, and Zabul to sustain its recent offensives in northern Kandahar. US and Afghan officials have downplayed the Taliban’s control of these remote areas and have described the far-flung districts as “not important” and “less vital areas.”
The Taliban disagrees, stating the remote districts under its control are the lifeblood of its insurgency. “The Mujahideen have opened up operational lines between Kandahar, Helmand and Uruzgan provinces and can throw its brunt at a time and place of its choosing,” the group stated after its fighters took control of Sangin in neighboring Helmand province in March. [See Taliban controls or contests 40 percent of Afghan districts: SIGAR and Capturing Sangin an ‘important victory,’ Taliban says.]
The Taliban is making inroads into Kandahar province. As of March 26, the Taliban claimed to control four of Kandahar’s 18 districts (Ghorak, Miyanashin, Registan, and Shorabak) and heavily contest five more (Arghastan, Khakrez, Maruf, Maiwand, and Shahwalikot). FDD’s Long War Journal assesses the Taliban’s claims of control to be credible. Of the remaining nine districts, the Taliban says it does “not control any specific area” but “only carryout [sic] guerilla attacks.” If the Taliban was exaggerating its control in Kandahar, it likely would claim to control or contest at least some areas of districts such as Panjwai and Zhari. Taliban founder and its first emir, Mullah Omar, founded the Taliban in Panjwai, and Zhari is considered the spiritual home of the group.
Kandahar is a strategic province for the Taliban and is considered to be the birthplace of the group. The province borders Baluchistan, the Pakistani province that serves as the group’s safe haven as well as a prime recruitment center. Kandahar is also a key to the production and distribution of opium, a major source of the Taliban’s income.