Afghanistan’s Ministry of Interior reported yesterday nine districts are under Taliban control, including four in the southern province of Helmand, and more than 40 others are heavily contested. The statement is an admission of the worsening security situation in Afghanistan since the last time the government disclosed such information one year ago.
“The districts are in the northeastern, southern and also other parts of Afghanistan. The enemy has increased its activities in those areas,” Ministry of Interior spokesman Sidiq Siddiqi said, according to TOLONews.
One year ago, in June 2015, Afghan officials told The New York Times that only four districts were under Taliban control (Nawa in Ghazni, Khak-i Afghan in Zabul, and Dishu and Musa Qala in Helmand).
“No other area except those four districts is under the enemy control now,” Major General Mohammad Afzal Aman, the chief of operations for the Ministry of Defense told The New York Times then.
However, multiple districts other than the four mentioned by Aman were known to be under Taliban rule at the time. A study by The Long War Journal at this time last year recorded all nine of these districts as being under Taliban command.
The nine districts controlled by the Taliban were identified this week as Now Zad, Musa Qala, Bagran, and Dishu in Helmand in the south; Nawa district in Ghazni and Khak Afghan district in Zabul provinces in the southeast; Warduj and Yamgan districts in Badakhshan in the northeast; and Kohistanat district in Sar-i-Pul in the north. The number contested districts, which were described by TOLONews as districts “facing serious security threats,” were not identified.
The Afghan government is likely still underestimating the extent of Taliban control throughout Afghanistan. For instance, the Taliban is known to have seized Char Chino district in Uruzgan on June 16 and there is no indication that Afghan forced ejected the Taliban.
The Taliban currently control 39 districts in Afghanistan and contest another 43, according to data compiled by The Long War Journal (see map above). Districts under Taliban command are being administered by the group, or the group controls the district center. Typically the Taliban dominates all of the areas of a district except the administrative center in contested districts. The Taliban likely controls or contests more districts displayed on the map above, however the districts listed on the map are ones that can be confirmed via independent sources such as Taliban claims, government reports, and news reports.
Al Qaeda has taken advantage of the deteriorating security situation to establish training camps in areas out of the government’s jurisdiction. For instance, al Qaeda ran two training camps, including a large facility, in the Shorabak district in Kandahar for more than a year before they were discovered by US forces. The US military only discovered the location of the two camps in Shorabak after raiding another in Paktika province in July 2015. Abu Khalil al Sudani, one of al Qaeda’s most senior figures, is thought to have been killed during that raid. Al Qaeda clearly assessed the situation in Paktika as being safe enough to place one of their top leaders there.
In October 2015, a large US military strike force took four days to clear the two al Qaeda camps in Shorabak. One camp covered over 30 square miles, and included large caches of weapons, ammunition, and other supplies. An al Qaeda media cell was also based there. More than 150 al Qaeda operatives are reported to have been killed in the raid. [See LWJ reports, US military strikes large al Qaeda training camps in southern Afghanistan, Al Qaeda’s Kandahar training camp ‘probably the largest’ in Afghan War., and State notes ‘severely degraded’ al Qaeda operated large training camp in Afghanistan].
After the Shorabak raid, General John Campbell, then the commander of Resolute Support, noted that US military and intelligence officials were surprised that the camp even existed. And the Shorabak raids forced the US military to revised its long-held estimate of 50 to 100 al Qaeda operatives in Afghanistan upwards to 300 in country. For more than six years, The Long War Journal has warned that official estimate of al Qaeda’s presence in Afghanistan is erroneous, and the jihadist group remains a significant threat to this day. [See LWJ report, US military admits al Qaeda is stronger in Afghanistan than previously estimated.]