The Taliban overran a district in the northeastern Afghan province of Nuristan after launching a massed assault on a police center.
A large Taliban force attacked the Waygal district center in Nuristan earlier today and drove out the Afghan police forces defending the town. Afghan officials put the size of the Taliban forces at more than 300 fighters, while the Taliban, in a press release on its website, the Voice of Jihad, claimed that 90 fighters carried out the attack.
The provincial chief of police, Shamsul Rahman Nuristani, claimed that police withdrew from the district and suffered no casualties, but the Taliban claimed that 13 policemen were captured and a large weapons cache was seized during the raid.
“Mujahideen attacked the district headquarter from four directions using heavy and small arms fire that continued for more than an hour ending up capturing more than 13 policemen besides a large amount of ammo and arms being seized by Mujahideen from the possession of the enemies including 25 Kalashnikov rifles, 4 heavy machine guns and two rocket launchers with three boxes of heavy rocket and heavy arms ammo with more than 25 military and supply vehicles,” the Taliban press release claimed.
The Taliban have become increasingly bold in the northeast. Just two days ago, the Taliban kidnapped more than 40 Afghan men from Nuristan who attempted to join the police in Kunar province. The Taliban have since released 14 of the Afghan men.
No US or ISAF forces are based in Nuristan’s Waygal district, which is also known as Wanat, Want, and Want Waygal. US troops withdrew from the district in the summer of 2008 after a deadly assault by a joint force of 200-400 fighters made up from the Taliban, Hizb-i-Islami Gulbuddin, and al Qaeda’s Shadow Army assaulted a small combat outpost as it was being built. The daylong firefight pitted the 48 US and 24 Afghan troops against the large Taliban and al Qaeda force. During the fierce battle, 9 US soldiers and between 20 to 50 enemy fighters were killed, and the assault force briefly entered the outer perimeter of the compound before being repelled.
US troops also withdrew from combat outposts in the Nuristan district of Kamdish after a major assault that nearly led to the overrunning an outpost by the Taliban. Afghan forces have also been put in charge of the district of Barg-i-Matal; that district exchanged hands between Afghan and Taliban forces several times last summer.
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. But ISAF commanders have since said that Afghan soldiers and police will be relied upon to secure the remote provinces.
But the US withdrawal from outposts in Nuristan and Kunar has also provided the Taliban with major propaganda victories. The Taliban have 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.
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.
Today’s assault on the Waygal district center was likely launched by Taliban leader Dost Mohammed, the Taliban’s shadow governor of Nuristan province. Elements from the Shadow Army, under the command of Qari Zia Rahman, al Qaeda’s top commander in Nuristan and Kunar provinces, may also have fought with Dost’s forces, which are considered able and effective fighters in their own right.
Dost maintains close links to senior al Qaeda and Pakistani Taliban leaders, such as Faqir Mohammed in Bajaur, just across the border. “He’s an operator, a big, big commander for Nuristan, and has lots of resources,” a US expert who advises the US government on the Taliban told The Long War Journal in 2009.
Dost has occasionally run afoul of the decisions made by the Taliban’s executive council, or the Shura Majlis, over leadership decisions in the region.
“In 2007, Dost Mohammed was against the Quetta Shura appointment of Maulvi Abdul Kabir, a Zadran Pashtun Taliban leader with strong links to [Mullah] Omar, as the Taliban’s Eastern Zone Commander,” the US expert, who wished to remain anonymous, said. “Dost has always enjoyed semi-autonomy control over his area of operations and his own resources in Nuristan.”
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