Taliban reportedly kills 100 Afghan troops in Helmand capital

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.

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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  • Evan says:

    What’s the plan here guys?

    Trumped up talk, really propaganda that paints a rosy picture of the Afghans ability to defend themselves, let alone take the fight to the enemy is utterly false, and only serves to promote a false sense of their obviously lacking capabilities.
    The idea, the thought that the Taliban would honor some agreement, allowing hundreds of combatants to simply leave the battle space, only to turn around, re arm and fight them again, is utterly absurd. No military commander worth his salt would ever honor that sort of agreement, let alone the Taliban, who contrary to popular opinion, are NOT stupid. All the stupid ones are long dead by now.
    These guys are very capable, they know the terrain, they know their enemy, and on top of all of that, they know that the only force capable of defeating and destroying them on the battlefield is packing up their gear and heading home.
    Everything’s coming up aces for the Taliban, and they’re acutely aware of the fact, and doing absolutely everything they can to exploit the situation.

  • Bill Roggio says:

    Evan, Couldn’t agree with you more. I’d add that the fact that a force of 300 Afghan security personnel felt compelled to believe that they would get safe passage from the Taliban tells us just how bad things were for them, and that a large and capable Taliban force was opposing them.

    One word of caution: the Taliban does have its own problems, including opposition from the Rasul faction and the Islamic State. But I think these are “problems of success” not problems created by setbacks on the battlefield or politically.

    Aces indeed.

  • kimball says:

    not one line about this “incident” in Afghan news. Did it happen at all??

  • irebukeu says:

    The United States has spent more than $50 billion on Afghan security forces in the past decade, The money bought new vehicles and guns for the Afghan army. Every penny was borrowed and every penny is gone. Only the 50 billion, plus 10 years compounded interest on that debt and the same exact problem remain.
    The corruption is neck deep there.
    It’s time to leave this horrible Byzantine Rubik’s cube to the Persians and the Russians and anyone else silly enough to bust open their kids piggy banks and get involved.
    I see the comments are starting…
    It should be obvious to everyone that the Afghan government WILL FAIL to control its borders. The question is what will the Afghan government be able to defend in any REALITY based discussion that involves the use of PRO-GOVERNMENT Afghan force?.
    So what is to be done about the fact that Afghanistan is failing while the administration and the military and apparently the Afghan government as well, hide that fact from the public to some degree?
    For the rentier nation called Afghanistan to succeed it MUST control its borders. This is a fact of any nation for it to be a nation and if that is not the goal then what is the plan?
    You know if you guys want to send America back into that dungeon to occupy every hillfort we ever did and make another failed attempt, make the argument that America should bring the empire along and we should control the borders. We keep being told that this is a battle of civilization against forces that want to return to the Iron age. If so then let’s act like it. Why doesn’t South Korea send a division of its troops? Why doesn’t Japan send two battalions of ‘rangers’? Surely the Italians can spare a regiment of actual fighting soldiers. Mexico perhaps can send Two Battalions. Why does Taiwan not already have a regiment in Helmand?
    When The Achaemenid Persians Invaded Greece they didn’t just bring Persians to the party. They brought troops from the whole empire.

  • irebukeu says:

    With respect to your valid point and argument, this is not a simple situation. I don’t find it ‘utterly absurd’ out of hand. Not knowing the conditions on the ground, the situation exactly, it’s hard to really know for sure what could reasonably have been expected of these men in this situation. It isn’t as if there is no history of what these men expected as their fate being delivered to others, either in history, or in this war.

    The taliban is known to do prisoner swaps and is not against them in principle. The idea of surrendering to start with involves hoping to live to fight again in some context.
    This from the SiTE intel group dated 3-16 {The Afghan Taliban stated that while it is open to prisoner exchanges, the talk by the Afghan government about swapping the group’s former governor for Faryab province for imprisoned soldiers is “baseless and empty propaganda”}. so the idea of making deals with someone is not out of the question and recent validation.
    There is a long history of these types of occurrences in one form or another, dated back to at least 321 BC at the battle of the caudine forks.
    Later, Gaius Julius Caesar, after defeating legions with his own legions offered them amnesty, they could fight him yet again if they so chose. It worked to his benefit yet he could also be brutal to those that resisted too long.
    In the Afghan Soviet war, often times surrendering Afghans would surrender their weapons and be allowed to go free, to be rearmed and recaptured yet again. Sometimes they would be held for exchanges. Sometimes executed.
    In this very war in Afghanistan often times government troops when coming under fire will abandon their vehicles, their weapons, their ID cards, even their very clothing and be allowed to escape, leaving coalition soldiers in the lurch. An incident from 2008 involving the deaths of 10 French paratroopers from the 8th regiment comes to mind as an example of this.
    So while I agree with most of your post, I just don’t find it utterly absurd that this might have been done, though I may, with more information yet agree in this particular case. For an example of “utterly absurd” I’d point you to the first Anglo-Afghan war and the withdrawal from Kabul which led to the deaths of all but a handful of British who left Kabul under the “protection” of Akbar Khan.

  • Evan says:

    I can see your points, rebuke, and they’re well founded.

    War is deception however, and while you’re right, there is and has been a precedent set for this type of surrender, there have also been many examples of combatants surrendering, only to be slaughtered en masse.
    Tikrit comes to mind, sad stuff….

    But, these men had plenty of fight left in them, they’re capable, they’re just not willing, and so instead of resorting to surrender as a last resort only, they decided to roll the dice, and came up snake eyes….

    For me, from my perspective of fighting, having fought in Af/Pak, and taught resourcefulness and dogged determination by the Marine Corps,
    surrender is absurd, trusting your enemy to keep his promises, with no way of knowing or enforcing the agreement until its far too late is absurd.
    I liked your replies, and I think actually that only one man, a British surgeon, survived the retreat from Kabul, but could be wrong.

  • den says:

    Just as Iran is doing all its fighting with proxies, so as not to excite the homeland. This will stretch from Lebanon to the Indian border, south into Israel. Eventually forcing the kingdom into a do or die position. WHO will help then? The Shia onslaught is really just getting tuned up. Irgc commander already said it’s their plan. Why would we not take him seriously and start moving parallel with them at least to blunt the obvious.

  • JP says:

    I agree with many of the the points stated above, but at some point we must recognize that if we put our credibility on the line, we have to act accordingly. You can’t get these guys ginned up on promises of support and then just walk away. It would seem that, at least, we could have provided this outfit some air support so they could have extracted themselves. These things will be remembered when the US promises big things to other parties.


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