The Taliban and Afghan officials confirmed that the jihadist group overran the district of Omna in the eastern province of Paktika after Afghan forces retreated earlier today. The district is the second in the east to fall to the Taliban in the past week as the group continues to press operations in all areas of the country.
Afghan soldiers and “special unit personnel” were sent to the district to halt the Taliban advance, but “beat a tactical retreat,” an anonymous Afghans security official told Pajhwok Afghan News. An Afghan official confirmed the Taliban had seized control of Omna.
“The attack in which heavy and light weapons were used resulted in the district administration buildings and all 6 defense posts overrun, 7 enemy personnel killed, 5 wounded and the rest utilizing the dark to flee,” one statement declared. “Similarly Mujahideen also seized 6 pickup trucks, a motorbike as well as a sizable amount of weapons and ammunition.”
The Taliban also claimed that 21 Afghan security personnel were killed and 16 more were wounded, while five of its fighters were killed and four were wounded. The Taliban’s claims on casualties cannot be independently confirmed; the group frequently exaggerates casualties sustained in its operations.
Omna is the second district in the Afghan east to fall to the Taliban since Aug. 26. On that day, the Taliban overran Jani Khel in neighboring Paktika province after laying siege to the district center for more than two weeks. Afghan officials in the district pleaded for reinforcements to prevent the collapse of the district but the Ministry of Defense failed to send any. [See LWJ report, Taliban storms district in eastern Afghanistan.]
Paktika province is a known haven for several Taliban groups, including the Haqqani Network and the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan, as well as al Qaeda. These groups have fought pitched battles against US forces in the province when the US military had a presence there – before the drawdown that began in 2012.
The Taliban’s overt influence in Paktika is difficult to assess as reporting from the province is scarce and the Taliban often controls the rural areas of districts but leaves the district centers under government control. Of the 19 districts in Paktika, the Taliban controls two (Waza Khwa and Omna), and contests another nine, The Long War Journal estimates based on reporting from the province. The number of contested districts is likely higher; for instance, distircts such as Jani Khel and Sarobi were battlegrounds while US forces maintained bases in the area, and it is unlikely Afghan forces are faring any better.
The Taliban currently control or contest more than 80 of Afghanistan’s 400 plus districts, according to a study by The Long War Journal (see map below). Again, that number may be higher as reports from some districts known to be Taliban strongholds are unavailable.
Security in Afghanistan continues to deteriorate as the Taliban presses offensives in all areas of the country. The Afghan military is struggling to contain the group, despite limited US military support. The US military has sent more than 100 special forces troops to Helmand to prevent the fall of its capital, Lashkar Gah. Kunduz, which fell to the Taliban for two weeks in September 2015, is again threatened. Al Qaeda has capitalized on the worsening security situation by establishing training camps in remote areas of Afghanistan.
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. That means 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.”
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.”