The security situation in Lashkar Gah, the beleaguered capital of Helmand province, appears to be worsening. Credible reports from Afghanistan indicate that hundreds of police and soldiers were killed, captured, or defected to the Taliban.
Two days ago, the Taliban claimed it killed scores of police and local militia fighters, known as Arbakis. The Taliban made the statement on Voice of Jihad, its official propaganda website:
Amid ongoing ‘Omari’ annual campaign, a hireling convoy came under heavy attacks of Mujahideen near cemetery of Basharano area of the capital Lashkargah overnight resulting in 125 police and Arbakis personnel surrendering, 69 including 5 commanders killed, 33 others wounded and subsequently arrested and under treatment by Mujahideen.
8 APCs, 1 Kamaz truck have been destroyed and 220 heavy and light weapons, 1 armored tank, 22 APCs, 20 ranger pickups, 3 other vehicles and different types ammunition have been confiscated.
While the Taliban routinely exaggerate the effects of its operations and often inflate the number of casualties inflicted, this report from The New York Times, appears to support the Taliban’s version of events. According to Afghan officials, Afghan forces were surrounded and negotiated to retreat, but the Taliban reneged and attacked the security force’s convoy as they retreated:
In what appears to be one of the worst massacres of Afghan forces in a protracted and forgotten war, at least 100 were killed when the Taliban fighters opened fire on them from all directions as they tried to flee through the agreed-upon retreat route, Afghan officials said Wednesday.
Accounts of the massacre, which happened Tuesday near the southern city of Lashkar Gah in Helmand Province, punctuated a growing crisis in Afghanistan’s armed forces that goes to the heart of their sustainability: They are sustaining enormous casualties from a revitalized Taliban insurgency and are facing increased problems recruiting.
“I can say with certainty that at least 100 were martyred, mostly national police and border police,” Mr. Akhundzada said. As districts have fallen, the government has brought its forces, including those meant to protect the borders they no longer control, to create a security belt around the city.
Although multiple senior officials in private also confirmed the 100 figure, with some putting the number of dead as high as 200, the spokesmen for the Afghan ministries of interior and defense strongly rejected them as exaggerated.
Allah Daad, the commander of a 30-police-officer unit near the site of the massacre, said the Taliban had besieged them for days and mined the roads, making resupply difficult.
They had finally talked to the Taliban to give them a safe passage of retreat to Lashkar Gah city.
“Around 2:30 a.m., the forces started retreating,” Mr. Daad said. “But the Taliban did not fulfill their promise.”
As noted by the Times, Afghanistan’s interior and defense ministries have rejected reports that security forces took heavy casualties, however, reports from local Afghan officials and the Taliban support each other.
Note that some of the key details made by the Taliban and Afghan officials in Helmand are nearly identical. Both sides indicated that a convoy of security forces was attacked. Both claimed Afghan forces suffered an estimated 100 casualties (69 killed, 33 wounded, according to the Taliban, and more than 100 killed according to Afghan officials). Afghan officials claimed that more than 300 police and other security personnel were present in the convoy, while Taliban accounted for 227 security personnel (69 killed, 33 wounded and subsequently captured, and 125 surrendered).
The situation in Lashkar Gah should give pause to those who are confident that Afghan forces are capable of weathering the Taliban surge without massive foreign support. The fact that more than 300 Afghan security personnel were besieged outside of a provincial capital and then considered it wise to try to negotiate a withdrawal with the Taliban, speaks volumes of the morale and capabilities of the regular Afghan forces defending Helmand’s capital.