Taliban raise flag over captured district in Helmand province

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Taliban fighters raise the group’s white flag over the district center in Now Zad, Helmand province.

The Afghan Taliban raised its white banner over military outposts after overrunning the district of Now Zad in Helmand province two weeks ago. Afghan officials have confirmed that Now Zad is under Taliban control.

The Taliban released a lengthy video of the fighting in the district, which occurred at the end of July. The video, entitled “Liberation of Now Zad,” was produced by Al Emera, the group’s media production arm, and published on Aug. 10 on its official Website, Voice of Jihad.

In the video, the Taliban are shown attacking and overrunning a hilltop base and occupying several military and police outposts, including a large base, in Now Zad. The video matches initial reports from both the Taliban and Afghan officials that Afghan soldiers and police abandoned the district center and police and military bases after heavy fighting. Days after taking Now Zad, the Taliban claimed that it killed more than 40 soldiers and police and this appears to be confirmed in the video. The bodies of dozens of dead soldiers are seen in different locations throughout the district.

The Taliban also seized Humvees that were supplied to Afghan security forces, large trucks, and other supplies. It is unclear if all of the vehicles are operational, but the Taliban used one Humvee to attack the hilltop base.

The video also shows that the Taliban are not overly threatened by Coalition air support. During the fighting, a Taliban “reporter” is being videotaped with what appears to be a team of leaders who are directing the fighting from a forward observation post. Gunfire and explosions can be heard in the background, and the video shows an F-16 fighter and what appear to be Afghan military attack helicopters attacking Taliban fighters. The command team is operating in the open and directing the battle with hand-held radios.

At the end of the video, the “the distinguished munashid, Al-Haj Faqir Muhammad Darweish” swears an oath of allegiance to Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Mansour, the new emir of the Taliban.

Additionally, a large number of Taliban fighters gathers in an open field, with weapons and vehicles in full display, and pledges to follow Mullah Mansour. The Taliban recently identified the “Commander for Now Zad” as Mullah Mishr Akhond and said he had also pledged allegiance to Mullah Mansour. According to the Taliban, Mullah Akhond leads 1,300 fighters in Now Zad.

Now Zad was the scene of heavy fighting between the Taliban and the 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 Now Zad after heavy fighting.

Since the summer of 2014, the Taliban has made a push to retake the districts of Now Zad, Musa Qala, Sangin, and Kajaki in northern Helmand. The jihadist group’s 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.

Images from the Taliban video from Now Zad:

Taliban fighters attack and overrun a hilltop base in Now Zad:

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Taliban fighters seize ATVs, Motorcycles, a tractor, and an artillery piece after overrunning a main base:

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Taliban fighters ride on a US-supplied Humvee. The vehicle was used in the assault on the hilltop base:

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A Taliban “reporter” records while a command team directs the fighting.

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An F-16 fighter conducts a sortie over Now Zad as the fighting is ongoing. Afghan helicopters are also seen in the video:

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“Al-Haj Faqir Muhammad Darweish” pledges to the Taliban’s new emir, Mullah Mansour:

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A large group of Taliban fighters and leaders gathers in the open in Now Zad to pledge to Mullah Mansour:

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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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