The Taliban took control of the district of Qala-i-Zal in Kunduz province after an operation the put Afghan forces under siege, Afghan officials and the Taliban confirmed. The district is the latest to fall under Taliban control.
Asadullah Omarkhil, the governor of the northern province of Kunduz, said that the security forces lost the district to the Taliban on July 20.
“Most parts of Qala-i-Zal are in the hands of the Taliban but our military operations continue there to re-take control of the district,” Omarkhil told TOLONews.
The Taliban touted the operation to retake Qala-i-Zal on its official website, Voice of Jihad. “Officials reporting from northern Kunduz province say that Qala Zal district which was under the tight siege of Mujahideen for the past 3 days has now (late afternoon hours) completely fallen under the control of Islamic Emirate,” the Taliban reported on July 20.
“The latest round of clashes in which the district administration building, police HQ, municipality and all the remaining check posts fell to the Mujahideen has left 8 hirelings dead and 15 others wounded,” it continued. The Taliban also claimed it captured “a sizable amount of arms and military equipment” as well as vehicles during the operation.
Kunduz province has been the scene of heavy fighting during the past year, and all seven of the districts in Kunduz are either controlled or contested by the Taliban. In September 2015, the Taliban overran Kunduz City and held it for two weeks before US-led Afghan forces regained control of the provincial capital.
The Taliban currently control 40 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.
The Afghan government has downplayed the Taliban’s advances over the past year, but recently was forces to admit that the number of Taliban-controlled districts doubled in the past year. In June, the Ministry of Interior reported that nine districts are under the sway of the Taliban, including four in the southern province of Helmand, and more than 40 others are heavily contested. The previous year the government claimed the Taliban controlled four districts. [See LWJ report, Afghan Ministry of Interior admits 9 districts under Taliban control.]
While the Afghan military has struggled to counter the Taliban in the field, it has touted a program that targets Taliban leaders in raids and airstrikes as evidence of its success. However the US military targeted the Taliban’s leadership for well over a decade without significantly impacting the group’s ability to sustain an effective insurgency.
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.
The worsening security situation in Afghanistan has not gone unnoticed in Washington. Less than two weeks ago, President Barack Obama described the security environment in Afghanistan as “precarious” and said he will keep more troops on the ground in Afghanistan than previously planned. While the number of US troops remaining in country will increase from 5,500 to 8,400, Obama still plans to withdraw an additional 1,400 troops by the end of the year, despite the Taliban’s advances. [See LWJ report, Obama backtracks on Afghanistan withdrawal, cites ‘precarious’ security situation.]