The Afghan National Army retook control of the district of Nawa from the Taliban today in central Helmand province. Nawa, which is adjacent to the provincial capital of Lashkar Gah, was under Taliban control for nine months before Afghan forces could muster the strength to mount an operation and retake it.
The Afghan military, backed by forces from NATO’s Resolute Support mission, launched the operation to seize Nawa on July 15. The spokesman for the governor of Helmand said that the operation was launched from three directions, TOLONews reported. Afghan officials have estimated that at least 38 Taliban fighters were killed during the assault and supporting coalition airstrikes.
Yesterday, the Taliban released a statement that noted fighting in Nawa, and claimed to have killed 12 Afghan security personnel, including a local police commander – but made no mention of loss of control in Nawa.
Nawa was overrun by the Taliban in early Oct. 2016, after a suicide bomber detonated an explosive-laden armored vehicle inside the district headquarters and an assault team team took control of the government buildings. One day after it fell to the Taliban, Resolute Support wrongly claimed that the Taliban assault was “repelled” and Nawa was “under government control.”
While Nawa is now under government control, given recent history and the security situation in Helmand, it is likely to become a contested district in short order. Over the past year, the district has been contested at best, as it has exchanged hands four times. Nawa previously fell to the Taliban in early Aug. 2016, but Afghan forces reentered the district center several weeks later.
Helmand province has become a stronghold for the Taliban since US forces began withdrawing from the province in 2013. The Taliban now controls six of the province’s 14 districts (Baghran, Dishu, Khanashin, Now Zad, Musa Qala, and Sangin) and contests another six, including the provincial capital (Lashkar Gah, Nahr-i-Sarraj, Kajaki, Nad Ali, Marjah, and Garmsir), according to data compiled by FDD’s Long War Journal.
The status of Washir district is uncertain as news reports from the district are scarce. Nearly all of Helmand has been controlled or influenced/contested for well over a year.
Al Qaeda has taken advantage of the security situation in Helmand and is known to operate in southern Helmand. Fighters from al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent are reported to have trained at camps located in Helmand’s Dishu and Khanashin districts as recently as 2014. The town of Baramacha in Dishu is a known hub of jihadist activity. The camps are believed to be operational to this day. [See FDD’s Long War Journal report, Al Qaeda operates in southern Helmand province.]
The situation in Helmand is so bleak that the Taliban has effectively surrounded the provincial capital of Lashkar Gah, and have launched several forays into the city. The Taliban have also unleashed major attacks in the district. In Oct. 2016, the Taliban ambushed a large convoy of Afghan troops after they negotiated their safe passage from their base on the outskirts of Lashkar Gah. More than 200 Afghan troops were killed, wounded, captured, or surrendered. One month ago, a Taliban suicide bomber killed at least 29 people and wounded scores more after detonating a car bomb outside of the Kabul Bank branch inside the city. [See Taliban details deadly ambush of Afghan military convoy and Taliban suicide bomber strikes bank in Helmand.]