The Taliban have seized control of a district in the northeastern province of Nuristan after several days of heavy fighting.
Afghan police have abandoned the district center of Barg-e-Matal as fighting took place in the main town, Afghan political and police officials said. The Taliban now claim they are in control of the district and have boasted that their forces have raised the Taliban banner over the district center.
Afghan officials maintain they conducted a “tactical retreat” today from the district center in Barg-e-Matal after the fighting threatened nearby civilians.
“Since the district headquarters is inside the village in a crowded location we had to make a tactical retreat to avoid casualties to civilians” Jamaludin Badr, the governor of Nuristan, told AFP.
The Taliban control key facilities in Barg-e-Matal, said Mohammad Gul Himat, an Afghan border police commander. “Taliban have control over their radio facility which means Taliban have captured the district,” Himat told AFP.
The fate of the Afghan policemen defending the district center is not known. It is unclear if they were killed, captured, or fled the scene of the fighting.
The Taliban issued two releases on the fighting in Nuristan on its website, Voice of Jihad. On the website, the Taliban claimed to have “seized complete control of the district” and “captured four military posts blocking off all the routes to the district center.” Both releases included crudely photoshopped images of a white Taliban flag flying over a fighting position built by US forces.
The clashes in Barg-e-Matal began on May 25, when a large Taliban force estimated at between 300 to 500 fighters attacked the district center. Afghan police, backed by a lashkar, or militia of local Nuristani tribesmen, fought back. US air support was called in to aid in the fighting against the Taliban, but no US ground forces have been reported to have engaged in fighting in the area.
Afghan officials claimed that Pakistani Taliban leader Mullah Qari Fazlullah led the initial assault in Barg-e-Matal, and later claimed he was killed. But Mullah Munibullah, the Taliban’s military commander for Nuristan, denied that Fazlullah led the attack and said he was not killed in the fighting. Munibullah said only Afghan Taliban were involved in the fighting.
But General Qaseem Payman, the provincial police chief for Nuristan, insisted that “a large number of Pakistani and Chechen rebels” were seen fighting in Nuristan. And in the past, Munibullah has admitted to working closely with al Qaeda and other South and Central Asian jihadist groups.
Payman said the Taliban suffered heavy losses in the battle for Barg-e-Matal despite their success in overrunning the district center.
“In the last one week battle between our forces and the Taliban, two policemen were killed and few others were wounded, but the Taliban suffered heavy casualties,” Payman told Quqnoos. “Around forty-five Taliban fighters were killed and dozens of others were wounded.”
The Barg-e-Matal district is a known Taliban transit area to and from the northern Pakistani district of Chitral. Last summer, the Taliban took control of Barg-e-Matal for several months after a similar attack. US and Afghan forces were deployed to the region to help local Nuristanis eject the Taliban, but the forces later withdrew.
Barg-e-Matal borders the district of Kamdish, which is under Taliban control since US forces withdrew from combat outposts last fall after an attack by a large Taliban and al Qaeda force.
Previous LWJ reports on the ongoing fighting in Barg-e-Matal:
May 28, 2010: “Nuristani Taliban commander denies Fazlullah killed”
May 27, 2010: “Mullah Fazlullah reported killed in Afghanistan”
May 26, 2010: “Pakistani Taliban assault district center in Nuristan”