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Taliban storms district in eastern Afghanistan

The Taliban took control of the district of Jani Khel in the eastern Afghan province of Paktia yesterday after laying siege to the district center for more than two weeks.

Both Afghan officials and the Taliban confirmed that Jani Khel fell to the Taliban late last night. On Voice of Jihad, the Taliban’s official website, the group claimed that it “stormed the enemy installations in Jani Khel district of Paktia province including district headquarters, police station and all its security and combat posts.”

“Mujahideen took over the district and overran 10 combat posts as well as police checkpoints, raising Islamic Emirate’s white flag,” the Taliban continued. Additionally, it claimed it killed “48 enemy personnel consisting of Arbakis [local militia], police and soldiers of ANA,” or Afghan National Army, and seized “15 armored tanks and 16 armored fighting vehicles,” and destroyed an additional six armored personnel carriers. The Taliban’s claims cannot be confirmed; the group routinely exaggerates the number of casualties inflicted on Afghan forces.

The governor of Jani Khel confirmed the Taliban’s claim that it did overrun the district.

“Our district was surrounded by Taliban for almost five days,” governor Abdul Rahman Solamal told Reuters. “Hundreds of them attacked our check posts overnight. If we do not retake it soon then Taliban can easily move from one province to another and can undermine security in at least three provinces.”

Solamal warned on Aug. 10 that the district was in danger of falling to the Taliban.

“The clashes are still ongoing two kilometers from the center of Janikhel,” he told TOLONews. “If supporting troops are not sent into Janikhel as soon as possible, the district will fall into the hands of the Taliban.”

Solamal’s plea for reinforcements and the failure of the Afghan government and military to provide support to districts under the threat of Taliban assaults has become all too common. The Taliban is sustaining offensive operations throughout Afghanistan as Afghan security forces, backed by US airpower and special forces, continue to struggle containing the jihadist group. Reports from Afghanistan indicate that the provincial capitals of Kunduz and Helmand are also in danger of falling to the Taliban.

The Taliban currently control or contest more than 80 of Afghanistan’s 400 plus districts, according to a study by The Long War Journal. That number may be higher as reports from some districts known to be Taliban strongholds are unavailable.

The Obama administration’s response to the deteriorating security situation has been to slow the withdrawal of US forces from the country, leaving 8,400 troops in Afghanistan instead of the 5,400 originally planned. Still, nearly 1,400 US troops will be withdrawn by the end of the year despite the fact that President Barack Obama described the security environment in Afghanistan as “precarious.” We have yet to hear an explanation as to how fewer troops will help the worsening security situation.

The US military continues to downplay Taliban gains and exaggerate the performance of the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces. On Aug. 25, Brigadier General Charles Cleveland, deputy chief of staff for communications for Resolute Support, NATO’s mission in Afghanistan, said that Afghan forces “are generally on a positive trajectory.”

“But overall, as we look at the country holistically, and as we compare and add into that the progress that we’ve seen at the ministry of defense and the ministry of interior from an institutional level, overall we still do believe that the ANDSF is performing better this year than they performed last year. We think that they are still generally on track with their offensive campaign plan, Operation Shafaq. And then finally, we still believe that they are generally on a positive trajectory.”

Cleveland made the statement despite the fact that that Taliban has regenerated its forces since the US withdrew the bulk of its combat forces, is threatening provincial capitals and seizing district centers, and operating openly as a military forces in multiple regions throughout Afghanistan. Additionally, Al Qaeda has become so emboldened by the success of the Taliban that it has established training camps in the country.

Bill Roggio :Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD's Long War Journal.