Taliban lay siege to a district in Nuristan


Map of Afghanistan’s provinces. Click map to view larger image.

The Taliban have crossed the border from Pakistan and are laying siege to a district center in Nuristan in northeastern Afghanistan.

More than 700 Afghan Taliban and “foreign fighters” have crossed the border from Pakistan on July 14 and battled with police at the district center in Barg-e-Matal, Jamaluddin Badr, the governor of Nuristan province told Pajhwok Afghan News. The fighting intensified on July 16, when Taliban and al Qaeda forces attacked the district center from three sides.

Two Pakistani commanders named Mullah Abdul Wali Mommand and Maulvi Saif-ur-Rahman are said to have led the charge to retake control of Barg-e-Matal. Additional sources mentioned that a commander named Ayubi also took part in the attack.

Pakistani, Arab, and Chechen fighters are involved in this attack, Mawlavi Mohammad Ismail, the district governor of Barg-e-Matal, told Radio Azadi. He added that at a minimum, 11 out of the estimated “1200 attackers” have been killed during fighting. A later report indicated more than 70 Taliban fighters were killed. Badr said two policemen were killed and four were wounded in the initial Taliban assault on July 14.

ISAF stated that as of July 16, the police were in control of Barg-e-Matal. Repeated attempts by The Long War Journal to contact Brigadier General Zaman, the Afghan Border Police commander in charge of the situation in Barg-e-Matal, have gone unanswered.

The police are poorly armed and lack ammunition to battle the Taliban, and the entire district is in danger of falling if reinforcements are not sent, Badr said. He has requested that the Afghan Army deploy a battalion and support the more than 400 local and border police tasked with securing the district. Ismail also asked the Afghan government to help the Afghan police forces. The Taliban have not commented yet on the fighting in Nuristan.

Barg-e-Matal has switched hands between the government and the Taliban twice this year. On May 29, a large force of Afghan and Pakistani Taliban, estimated at between 300-500 fighters, took control of the district after two days of fighting. Afghan police officials also claimed that Chechen and Pakistani fighters were involved in the assault.

Afghan officials claimed that Pakistani Taliban leader Mullah Qari Fazlullah led the late May assault in Barg-e-Matal, and later claimed he was killed. But Mullah Munibullah, the Taliban’s military commander for Nuristan, denied that Fazlullah had led the attack and said he was not killed in the fighting. Munibullah said that only Afghan Taliban were involved in the fighting.

On May 31, Afghan commandos and US soldiers launched a counterattack to retake the district. More than 600 troops and policemen, backed by air, artillery, and attack helicopters drove the Taliban out of the district after two days of heavy fighting.

Just days later, the US troops and Afghan soldiers withdrew from Barg-e-Matal, after setting up security outposts for the police in the region.

The Barg-e-Matal district is a known Taliban transit area to and from the northern Pakistani district of Chitral. Large numbers of former Hezb-i-Islami fighters aligned with renegade warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar and his top battlefield commander Kashmir Khan are also active in Barg-e-Matal. Criminal elements who dominate the illegal lumber trade and gem mines in Barg-e-Matal are also affiliated with Hezb-i-Islami commanders.

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 has been under Taliban control since US forces withdrew from combat outposts last fall after an attack by a large Taliban and al Qaeda force.

The withdrawal of US forces from the outposts in Nuristan and neighboring Kunar province has provided the Taliban and al Qaeda safe havens in the region. The Taliban are using these new safe havens to stage attacks in the north. The neighboring provinces of Takhar and Badakhshan, particularly the Jurm district, have seen a spike in attacks over the past year. Afghan intelligence officials have previously intercepted rogue Pakistani Frontier Corps personnel and Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence directorate agents penetrating Badakhshan from Kunar over the past year. The provinces of Badakhshan and Tahkhar have been peaceful up until the past year.

The US withdrawal from outposts in Nuristan and Kunar has also provided the Taliban with major propaganda victories. The Taliban released tapes showing large-scale assaults on the US outposts followed by scenes of the Taliban occupying the abandoned bases. Weapons and ammunition that had been hastily abandoned by US and Afghan forces were displayed by the Taliban in the tapes.

Since last fall, ISAF began withdrawing forces from remote districts in Nuristan and neighboring Kunar province as part of its new counterinsurgency plan that emphasizes securing major population centers over rural areas. According to ISAF commanders, the remote provinces of Nuristan and Kunar will be dealt with after more strategic regions in the south, east, and north have been addressed.

The outposts in Nuristan and Kunar were initially created in 2006 as part of a plan to establish a string of bases to interdict Taliban fighters and supplies moving across the border from Pakistan. But the plan was not completed, because US forces were diverted to the south in Kandahar after the Taliban began launching increasingly sophisticated attacks.

Ahmad Waheed is a Research Analyst at the Program for Culture and Conflict Studies at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, CA. He is a Fulbright Scholar from Afghanistan and an alumni of the Monterey Institute of International Studies, and holds a Master’s Degree in International Policy Studies.


Hundreds of militants storm Barg-e-Matal, Pajhwok Afghan News

Barg-e-Matal deadly clashes leave 70 militants dead, Pajhwok Afghan News

Report on fighting in Nuristan,Radio Azadi

Afghan commandos retake eastern district from the Taliban, The Long War Journal

Taliban take control of district in Nuristan, The Long War Journal

Nuristani Taliban commander denies Fazlullah killed, The Long War Journal

Mullah Fazlullah reported killed in Afghanistan, The Long War Journal

Pakistani Taliban assault district center in Nuristan, The Long War Journal

Tags: ,


  • Charley says:

    1200 Taliban are a large target. I am wondering why we are are not aerially bombing these cockroaches.

  • Render says:

    Several possibilities for that answer.
    1: The ROE’s regarding air strikes are still in effect. Don’t know if that’s true, but if it is it would explain much.
    2: A persistent and growing shortage of jet fuel. Again, don’t know if that’s true, but if it is it would explain much.
    3: All available strike aircraft already tasked with other targets at the time. Again, don’t know if that’s true, but if so, it would explain much.
    4: The local Talib/al-Q forces have already demonstrated light AAA and sophisticated flak traps. That is true, confirmed beyond any shadow of a doubt by recent videos. That alone would serve to keep lighter and slower strike aircraft beyond stand-off range.
    5: Much of the region around Barg-e-Matal is well above 10,000 feet altitude. That tends to put a crimp in most normal helicopter operations.

  • Aaron says:

    Because heaven forbid we should kill one of them…(That’s sarcasm of course)

  • adam says:

    we arent bombing them because we dont have the manpower to bomb them. why do you think they withdrew after just a few days after retaking the place. too worried about casualties, about the image of it all. its all about politics now..

  • My3Cents says:

    1200 is a small target when dispersed inside a city. Also, given the fact that the police have held out with limited ammunition, it is a safe bet the actual number of combatants is much lower.
    A better question would be ‘What are we doing to insure that most of them do not make it back across the border?’

  • madashell59 says:

    Good points. Your ending question is good one since they have been repelled. Where are they now and where are they going? And will something be waiting for them.
    The number of fighters is interesting though. Why would they leave the area under security of just the police force if they did not think they could handle anything that was brought to their door step.
    This assault could have also been an intelligence gathering assault. Or a smoke screen for a supplies convoy. Do not know anything about the environment there but if the police were left to guard and watch for supply movement they may have been distracted.

  • Rhyno327 says:

    the only way to dislodge them is with house to house. I hope these houses have no civvies, a SDB would come in real handy. We better get in position, the manpower is there. Shame we can’t just bomb it to dust.

  • Potemkyn says:


    Barg-e-Matal has maybe 5,000 people within a 100 miles of the ‘town center.’ There is one road that runs south from GIRoA controlled northern Kunar to Barg-e-Matal and that runs straight through Kamdesh district. The only way to supply the Afghan police there is by air, and it is a good fifty miles north through completely hostile terrain where numerous choppers have been shot down since 06. That the US would allow the Afghans to hold such an impossible position is not a sound military decision. The politics of leaving the area, though, may be more important than any other consideration.

    The likelihood of 1,200 fighters being there is close to zero percent, and more likely an attempt by local Afghan officials to get Americans to fly out supplies so they can bribe the insurgents in the area to not attack them again.

  • Render says:

    Metaphorically speaking…
    Refusing a flank is a valuable tool in preparation for an offensive on the opposite flank.
    Refusing a flank with no such offensive planned is an invitation to disaster.

  • Henrik says:

    Any news as to whether the afghan police were overrun, what bodycount the Taliban suffered etc? Im coming up empty.


Islamic state



Al shabaab

Boko Haram