Taliban seize district in Helmand province

The Taliban overran the district center and several military and police installations in Now Zad in the southern Afghan province of Helmand yesterday. The fall of Now Zad is the latest in a series of setbacks for the Afghan security forces and government, which are struggling to maintain control of areas liberated from the Taliban just a few years ago.

The Taliban claimed it launched “a coordinated assault on enemy positions around Now Zad district center” on July 28, according to a statement on its official website, Voice of Jihad. Six “check posts” were overrun on the first day, and the jihadist group said it killed 25 security personnel.

The next day, the Taliban claimed that “Mujahideen managed to overrun the PRT [provincial reconstruction team] building along with 2 more check posts overnight, killing 14 hireling troops” and seized weapons, ammunition, vehicles, and other equipment. According to the Taliban report, Afghan security forces “abandoned” five outposts and withdrew from the district center after the jihadist group massed for an assault.

While the details of the Taliban claims cannot be verified, the fall of Now Zad was confirmed by a member of Helmand’s provincial council and other officials. Eight soldiers and four policemen are reported to have been killed in the fighting, according to Khaama Press.

Now Zad was the scene of heavy fighting between the Taliban and British and then US Marines from 2007 to 2010. More than 900 US and British troops and 150 Afghan soldiers launched Operation Cobra’s Anger in early December 2009 to liberate the district from the jihadist group’s control. The Taliban were driven from the district after heavy fighting.

Since the summer of 2014, Taliban have made a push to retake the districts of Now Zad, Musa Qala, Sangin, and Kajaki in northern Helmand. The Taliban offensive in Helmand has stretched the Afghan security forces thin. After two months of fighting in Sangin, local Afghan officials opened peace talks with the Taliban. Earlier this month, the Taliban released a video showing its forces parading in Kajaki. Afghan officials have said the district is largely under Taliban control. [See LWJ reports, Taliban battle to regain areas of key southern province, and Taliban parades in northern Helmand.]

The Taliban have made a push on multiple fronts to regain territory it lost during the US “surge,” which began in the summer of 2009 and ended in the summer of 2012. More than 30,000 US troops were deployed to Afghanistan, primarily in the south, to retake Taliban-held areas in Helmand and Kandahar. While the Taliban suffered heavy losses and lost control of key districts, the group was not defeated militarily or politically. The Taliban regrouped and began attacking Afghan security forces as US forces began their withdrawal.

In the north, the Taliban has taken control of districts in Kunduz, Sar-i-Pul, and Badakhshan over the past several months.

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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