The Taliban overran the Musa Qala district center when Afghan forces fled after several days of fighting. The fall of Musa Qala puts the Taliban in effective control of northern Helmand, and will allow it to threaten the provincial capital of Lashkar Gah.
A member of the Helmand provincial council confirmed that the Taliban seized the district center this morning. “Three Afghan security members were killed and ten others including the district governor were wounded,” ATN News reported.
Afghan defense officials have boasted that more than 60 Taliban fighters were killed, most in Coalition airstrikes, during the peak of fighting which began three days ago. “Pakistani, Arab and Chechen Taliban insurgents” are present in Musa Qala, TOLO News reported.
Afghan forces took heavy casualties during the fighting. A member of the Helmand provincial council said that 45 Afghan soldiers were killed and 20 more surrendered during an assault on an outpost on Aug. 23. At least nine policemen were killed in an attack on a police station on Aug. 13.
The Taliban confirmed its forces took control of Musa Qala. In a statement released on Voice of Jihad, the Taliban’s official website, the group said “Mujahideen of Islamic Emirate have managed to overrun Musa Kala district center, HQ building, Police HQ, PRT building and all surrounding check posts in an overnight assault.” According to the Taliban, “a sizable number of arms, ammunition, APCs, vehicles and other equipment has also been seized in the operation.”
Afghan forces are “currently retreating towards Gereshk” in the neighboring district of Nahri Sarraj district, the Taliban claimed. “Mujahideen are now pursuing the convoy.”
The Taliban now control most of northern Helmand province, and will likely push its offensive towards Lashkar Gah in central Helmand, as Afghan security forces are stretched thin with an ongoing Taliban offensive in the Afghan north. This spring and summer, the Taliban have taken control of at least four of the seven districts in Kunduz province and have also seized districts in Sar-i-Pul and Badakhshan provinces.
The northern-most district of Baghran was never liberated from the Taliban during the US ‘surge’ from 2009 to 2012. Sangin district is at best contested; after two months of fighting in Sangin in the summer 2014, local Afghan officials opened peace talks with the Taliban. Kajaki district is largely under Taliban control, Afghan officials have said. In July, the Taliban released a video showing its fighters parading in Kajaki. Now Zad district fell to the Taliban at the end of July.
This year Taliban has made a push on multiple fronts to regain territory it lost during the US surge. More than 30,000 US troops were deployed to Afghanistan, primarily in the south, to retake Taliban-held areas in Helmand and Kandahar during the surge. While the Taliban suffered heavy losses and lost control of key districts, the group was not defeated militarily or politically. The Taliban regrouped in Pakistan and other provinces in Afghanistan, and began attacking Afghan security forces as US forces began their withdrawal.
The Taliban has pressed its spring offensive, called “Azm,” despite controversy over the death of its founder and emir, Mullah Omar. Afghan and Taliban officials have said that Omar died in Pakistan in 2013. The Taliban’s leadership council hid his death from the rank and file and appointed Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Mansour, who is closely tied to al Qaeda, as the new emir. After Mansour was officially named the Taliban’s new emir, one of his first acts was to publicly accept al Qaeda’s oath of allegiance. The controversy over Omar’s death does not appear to have impacted the Taliban on the battlefield.