The Taliban has surrounded a number of Afghan troops in Baghlan near the provincial capital, putting pressure on Afghan troops which were already stretched thin fighting on four different fronts.
Taliban fighters have encircled Afghan forces in the district of Pul-i-Khumri, which hosts the capital city of the same name, families of the troops claimed. The Afghan soldiers have been been under siege for one week, according to TOLONews, and the military has yet to move to relieve the forces.
“The government doesn’t listen to us … forces can go there, but they don’t go. The government has aircraft, but don’t use them,” a relative of one of the soldiers trapped in Pul-i-Khumri district told the Afghan news agency.
The Taliban claimed to have taken over large areas of Pul-i-Khumri and the neighboring district of Baghlan-i-Jadid (also known as Baghlan-i-Markazi). On May 14, the Taliban released a statement on Voice of Jihad claiming its fighters “[dismantled] two more bases as well as [purged] two villages from the enemy after hours of fighting” in Baghlan-i-Jadid and “took over a major military base and a number of checkpoints” in Pul-i-Khumri.
The next day, the Taliban released a detailed report claiming major gains in Pul-i-Khumri. According to the statement, the Taliban overran nine villages and four “posts,” while its fighters “laid a siege around a fortified base and blocked off the main road extending to Mazar-i-Sharif,” the capital of Balkh province. The Taliban claimed it repelled Afghan forces attempting to break the siege of the base.
While it is difficult to independently confirm the Taliban’s claims bout the fighting in Baghlan, press reports indicate that the jihadist organization has made gains in the north and are disrupting transportation on the Ring Road, or Highway 1, in Baghlan. The Ring Road connects Afghanistan’s largest cities and is the major highway in the country.
Last week, The New York Times confirmed that the Taliban shut down the vital artery after ambushing policemen guarding it.
“The northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif was cut off, as were road connections to eight northern provinces,” the Times reported on May 14.
The Taliban offensive in Baghlan is straining Afghan security forces, which have primarily focused on securing the capital of Kabul while holding off the jihadist group from taking over the provincial capitals of Helmand in the south and Kunduz, which borders Baghlan in the north. The Taliban overran Kunduz City in September 2015 and held it for two weeks before US special operations forces led the fight to retake the provincial capital. In Helmand, the Taliban control or contest most of the districts, and have laid siege to the capital of Laskar Gah for several months.
Afghan forces have been stretched thin attempting to fight the Taliban on multiple fronts. Forces are often shifted from one theater to another to take back ground from the Taliban, but once the military pulls back, the areas fall back under Taliban control.
The Taliban has not confined its fighting to Kunduz, Baghlan, and Helmand. The group has made gains in Kandahar and is also pressing Afghan forces in eastern provinces such as Kunar, Khost, and Paktika, and western provinces such as Badghis and Farah.
Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD’s Long War Journal.