Taliban retakes eastern Afghan district from Afghan forces

The Taliban retook control of the contested district of Jani Khel in Paktia from Afghan forces last night. The district has changed hands three times over the past two weeks. The repeated loss of Jani Khel to the Taliban demonstrates the difficulties Afghan forces face in holding onto remote contested districts.

Afghan officials and the Taliban both confirmed that Jani Khel fell to the Taliban. An Afghan official told TOLONews that security forces retreated from the district center after Taliban fighters launched their assault.

“The security forces asked for air support during the clashes, but did not receive a response and retreated from the district as a result,” an official told the Afghan news agency.

Paktia province is a known stronghold of the Haqqani Network – the powerful Taliban subgroup based in eastern Afghanistan and in Pakistan’s tribal areas. Sirrajuddin Haqqani, the leader of the Haqqani Network, serves as one of the Taliban’s two deputy emirs.

In a statement released on Voice of Jihad, the Taliban’s official propaganda outlet, the group claimed that “over 12 puppets were killed and at least 17 others suffered injuries” after Taliban fighters took control of the police headquarters, the district administrative center and surrounding security outposts. The Taliban claimed two of its fighters were killed and three more were wounded.

Additionally, the Taliban claimed it “seized from the enemy a large amount of arms, ammunition and other military equipment.” This claim is likely true, as the Taliban confiscated a large number of machine guns, RPG launchers, rifles, and crates of ammunition as well as military vehicles, including US-supplied HUMVEEs and Ford Ranger pickup trucks, when it overran Jani Khel more than two weeks ago.

The district has been consistently contested for more than a year, since the Taliban stormed it on Aug. 27, 2016. Afghan forces retook the district center, but the Taliban remained on the outskirts and threatened Afghan forces stationed there. Last March, the group claimed that all but six percent of the district was under Taliban control.

The Taliban overran the Jani Khel district center on July 25, 2017 and held it for more than a week before Afghan forces retook it on Aug. 4. Afterwards, Afghanistan’s National Directorate of Intelligence claimed it captured a fighter from Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan (SSP), a terrorist group based in Pakistan.

According to the captured SSP fighter, he was trained at a camp inside Pakistan, where leaders from Pakistani terrorist groups Jaish-e-Mohammad, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, and Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan would regularly preach.

“They were asking us to go to Afghanistan for Jihad (holy war),” the fighter said, according to TOLONews. “They asked me to go the eastern part of Afghanistan. Some others were sent to the west and all of them were spread around.”

The SSP fighter may have been a member of al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent, al Qaeda branch in South and Central Asia. Al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent was formed in Sept. 2014 and includes elements of some of Pakistan, Afghanistan, and India’s most prominent jihadist groups. AQIS reports to the Taliban and fights alongside them in Afghanistan.

The Haqqani Network has openly called for foreign fighters to join their ranks and fight US and Afghan forces, and is closely allied with al Qaeda.

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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7 Comments

  • Mike Smith says:

    This illustrates how fluid the lines are between one terrorist group and another, and how closely they are linked.

  • madjack says:

    Remember the old saying, “a sailboat is a hole in the water you throw money into?” That’s Afghanistan, and enough is enough. It’s time to pack up and get out. I could go on and on about this but what’s the point? What a gigantic waste this has been.
    We tried. I remember talking with a very squared away young Afghan guy at our camp in Khost. I told him his generation was the hope of the country, and could make a difference. He said, nope, it would be his grandson, if even then.
    After we vacate the various factions and “government” will continue to fight, maybe even to the scale that presaged the Taliban, before it becomes an Islamist paradise once more. Then somebody else can go liberate them from themselves again.

  • Moose says:

    SSP is still around?

    Anyways, there was a major Taliban attack on a village in Sar-e Pol a few days ago. Dozens of civilians were killed. I haven’t seen anything on LWJ about it yet.

    I’m also interested in LWJ’s opinion on Erik Prince’s proposal to send mercenaries to Afghanistan. Personally, I think it’s a good idea since our generals don’t seem too interested in winning this war anymore. I’m not sure if they ever were.

    • James says:

      Actually, the more I look at it, the ‘key’ to what happens in Afghanistan just might be how we deal with their opium production. Why don’t we just buy their opium production (or, at least a major part of it) and then sell it to the major pharmaceutical companies? The way I see it, the economic lifeblood of the Taliban could well be Afghanistan’s opium production. Why hasn’t anybody (at least that I know of) seriously looked into this?

      We were never going to ‘win’ this war (at least from a conventional war standpoint). What I wish they would do is to set a number for troop strength and stick to it long term (allow a little leeway). That’s what it will take.

  • Paul Cock says:

    Well it seams that the US tax payer is again indirectly providing the jihad with weapons. I have seen a film on El Jazeera, witch did show a totally demoralized Afgan army, with poorly payed and fed soldiers, disgusted by the corruption of their government.

  • irebukeu says:

    I just saw posted this morning, what appears to be Taliban standing in front of Humvees that are still on the backs of flatbeds. Jani Khel is the caption. They have not even been unloaded yet.

  • irebukeu says:

    I’ve seen you make this comment before James and it is an interesting proposal. Its an odd plan but if you have thought it through, I’ll be your huckleberry.
    Since the proper (non-interventionist) way to do this is without American involvement, why not just let the Afghans deal with it. Let the Afghan government of whatever version, collect all their local taxes in opium where feasible and then the Afghan government can sell it on the open market. Boom, done and not one American life at risk. How does that sound?
    James, I would like to hear also, perhaps in future posts if possible, explain why you think the war is not winnable and yet must be fought?

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