Taliban threatens second provincial capital in Afghan south

The Taliban has launched an offensive to take control of Tarin Kot, the capital of Uruzgan province. Its forces have entered the city and are engaged in heavy fighting with Afghan forces there. Tarin Kot is the second provincial capital in the south that is under direct threat of a Taliban takeover. Lashkar Gah in neighboring Helmand province is also contested by the Taliban.

The Taliban claims to have seized all security installations outside of the city and said it controls several government building inside the city as well.

In a series of three separate statements on its official website, Voice of Jihad, the Taliban touted its initial success in the city and claims it took control of “4 strategic enemy bases and 32 check posts” outside of Tarin Kot. The Taliban said it overran “commander Akbar Khan’s base in Marabad area” and that Khan and 40 of his troops surrendered. Additionally, the Taliban said it stormed the city’s prison but the guards had already evacuated the prisoners.

Afghan officials have confirmed that Taliban forces have entered the city, taken control of the prison, and are currently battling Afghan forces.

“The security forces are engaged with the Taliban inside the city, and fighting is ongoing,” Dost Mohammad Nayab, a spokesman for Uruzgan’s governor, told The New York Times.

Nayab also confirmed the Taliban’s claim that it controls security outposts outside of Tarin Kot. The Afghan Interior and Defense ministries are said to be scrambling troops to prevent the fall of Tarin Kot.

Uruzgan has been hotly contested for more than a year. Of the province’s six districts, one, Char Chino, is under Taliban control, and the remaining five are heavily contested. The Taliban seized Char Chino in June 2016 after Afghan forces conducted a tactical retreat.

The Taliban considers Uruzgan to be a strategic province, and has previously said that it controls all areas of the province except for the district centers.

In a Voice of Jihad interview in April 2016 with Mullah Aminullah Yousuf, the Taliban’s shadow governor for Uruzgan, he described the province as “the linking point for many provinces” and a traditional “strong fortress of mujahideen.” [See LWJ report, Taliban seizes a district in Uruzgan.]

“The enemy thinks that if the province fell into the mujahideen’s hands, recapturing it back would be very hard,” Yousef said.

Yousef explained that US, Dutch, and Australian forces committed significant resources to secure Uruzgan and stand up to the police and Arbakis, or local militias. But the Taliban continued to fight in the province and gained grounds after Coalition forces withdrew.

“[I]n the course of last year, with the exception of district headquarters, all villages, suburbs, and valleys slipped away from enemy hands,” Yousef claimed in April.

Yousef said the Taliban would continue to pursue gaining control of the district centers, and predicted that the loss of all five districts would be a serious problem for the Afghan government.

“If … the mujahideen capture the headquarters of districts as we expect and have plans for, then provincial headquarters will not be able to resist. It would be a big blow to the enemy, and the enemy would leave the area,” he stated.

Three of Afghanistan’s 34 provincial capitals are now under direct Taliban threat. In neighboring Helmand province, the Taliban has surrounded Lashkar Gah and control five and contest eight of the province’s 14 districts. The US military has sent more than 100 special forces troops to Helmand to prevent the fall of the provincial capital. In the north, the Taliban is again threatening Kunduz, which fell under Taliban control for two weeks in the fall of 2015.

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. In eastern Afghanistan, the Taliban recently overran two districts in Paktika province.

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

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