The Taliban has seized control of another district in the embattled southern Afghan province of Helmand. Both the Taliban and Afghan officials confirmed that the government lost control of the district of Nawa today.
The Taliban announced that it took control of Nawa on its official propaganda website, Voice of Jihad, after a suicide bomber detonated a HUMVEE in the district’s government center:
A heroic martyrdom seeker of Islamic Emirate – Arif – detonated in explosive packed APC (Hummer) inside the district center, leveling the buildings before the other Mujahideen completely took over the rest of buildings, the police HQ and all surrounding defensive positions by 08:00 am local time. The enemy sustained heavy losses in the operation, officials say adding that Mujahideen are currently carrying out a clearing op and have seized a large quantity of weapons, ammunition and other equipment
Afghan officials said that Ahmadshah Salem, the district’s chief of police, was among those killed in the Taliban onslaught, according to TOLONews.
Nawa previously fell to the Taliban in early August 2016, but Afghan forces reentered the district center in mid-August, making the district contested.
Security has deteriorated in Helmand as the Taliban has recently pressed its offensive to regain the ground lost there between 2009-2011. Of Helmand’s 14 districts, six are known to be controlled by the Taliban (Now Zad, Nawa, Musa Qala, Baghran, Dishu, and Khanashin), and another seven, including the provincial capital, are heavily contested (Lashkar Gah, Nahr-i-Sarraj, Kajaki, Nad Ali, Marjah, Garmsir, and Sangin). The status of Washir district is uncertain as new reports from the district are scarce, though The Long War Journal believes Washir is contested.
Taliban forces pressed into the provincial capital of Lashkar Gah earlier this month, fought in the center of the city before being pushed out by Afghan forces backed by US troops and air power. The Taliban claims that its fighters “have recently made considerable advances on Lashkargah and are at around one kilometer from the provincial capital.”
The Taliban are also threatening the provincial capitals of Kunduz and Uruzgan. Taliban forces are reported to have entered Kunduz City and raised their flag.
General John Nicholson, the commander of US Forces Afghanistan and NATO’s Resolute Support Mission, recently downplayed the Taliban’s battlefield successes and claimed that Taliban operations in and around provincial capitals were being “exaggerated.” From Nicholson’s Pentagon press conference on Sept. 23:
Then when something happens, when a checkpoint [outside of the city] is overrun, quite often, local leaders in order to attract attention to their area will call the media in many cases and relay ‘hey, you know, the community’s being overrun, the city’s being overrun.’ This results in what I — what I’d characterize as exaggerated reports about how dire the security situation is, which then the government has to respond to and then they typically stabilize the situation.
So this pattern I just described is what we’ve see in Helmand, around Lashkar Gah, we’ve seen in Kunduz around Kunduz City and we saw most recently in Tarin Kowt. And so we’re working closely with our Afghan partners on this, on how they can help better secure these areas, how they can react quickly, how they can reassure the population, how they communicate their message more effectively.
Nicholson also downplayed the fact that the Taliban controls 10 percent of the Afghan population and contests another 20 percent, stating that the Taliban’s influence is in the rural areas. This ignores the fact that the Taliban, like all successful insurgencies, must first succeed in rural areas like Nawa, before taking the fight to the population centers, as it is currently doing.