Afghan forces sustain heavy casualties in Taliban assault on southern base

The Afghan National Army sustained more than 50 percent casualties as the Taliban assaulted a military base in Khakrez, a contested district in the southern province of Kandahar. The Taliban has been hitting Afghan military bases in northern Kandahar hard since the end of the spring in an effort to regain control of areas lost during the US surge between 2009 and 2011.

The Taliban attacked the base overnight and killed 26 Afghan soldiers and wounded 13 more, the Ministry of Defense confirmed, according to TOLONews. Additionally, eight more soldiers are reported as missing and presumably captured by the Taliban. Fifty-seven of the 82 soldiers stationed at the base were killed, wounded or captured during the fighting.

Afghan officials claim the base is still under the control of the military. The Taliban, in a statement released on its official website, Voice of Jihad, claimed it “overran” the base and killed 70 soldiers and captured six more. Additionally, it claimed to destroy four armored vehicles and three pickup trucks, and captured another armored vehicle as well as weapons and ammunition.

The Taliban has attacked several bases in contested districts in northern Kandahar since the beginning of May in an effort to weaken and drive out Afghan forces from the area. Scores of Afghan troops have been killed in the fighting. [See FDD’s Long War Journal report, Taliban attacks another base in Kandahar.]

The Taliban is successfully utilizing safe havens in the remote areas of Kandahar, Helmand, Uruzgan, Ghazni, and Zabul to sustain its recent offensives in northern Kandahar. US and Afghan officials have downplayed the Taliban’s control of these remote areas and have described the far-flung districts as “not important” and “less vital areas.”

The Taliban disagrees, stating the remote districts under its control are the lifeblood of its insurgency. “The Mujahideen have opened up operational lines between Kandahar, Helmand and Uruzgan provinces and can throw its brunt at a time and place of its choosing,” the group stated after its fighters took control of Sangin in neighboring Helmand province in March. [See Taliban controls or contests 40 percent of Afghan districts: SIGAR and Capturing Sangin an ‘important victory,’ Taliban says.]

The Taliban is making inroads into Kandahar province. As of March 26, the Taliban claimed to control four of Kandahar’s 18 districts (Ghorak, Miyanashin, Registan, and Shorabak) and heavily contest five more (Arghastan, Khakrez, Maruf, Maiwand, and Shahwalikot). FDD’s Long War Journal assesses the Taliban’s claims of control to be credible. Of the remaining nine districts, the Taliban says it does “not control any specific area” but “only carryout [sic] guerilla attacks.” If the Taliban was exaggerating its control in Kandahar, it likely would claim to control or contest at least some areas of districts such as Panjwai and Zhari. Taliban founder and its first emir, Mullah Omar, founded the Taliban in Panjwai, and Zhari is considered the spiritual home of the group.

Kandahar is a strategic province for the Taliban and is considered to be the birthplace of the group. The province borders Baluchistan, the Pakistani province that serves as the group’s safe haven as well as a prime recruitment center. Kandahar is also a key to the production and distribution of opium, a major source of the Taliban’s income.

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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31 Comments

  • Nick Mastrovito says:

    So despite the casualties, the ANA is still in control. From where I stand, that’s success on the part of ANA although bloody success and an utter failure on the part of the Taliban. Am I wrong?

    • irebukeu says:

      Yes.

    • Michael Rhodes says:

      @Nick that’s assuming the Taliban had the objective of permanently seizing the base in this attack, which is not necessarily true. If the ANA can’t just replace lost soldiers as needed, these kinds of attacks will erode their combat effectiveness overtime. And they probably won’t be conducting too many patrols in Khakrez for the short term either.

      • Nick Mastrovito says:

        @Michael, I don’t argue w/you but the only way the Taliban actually regains control of Afghanistan is by holding terrain. As long as the GoA stabilizes the countryside, they have a chance. Still, my point is, that we’re acting like the ANA cut and run like the Iraqis did in Mosul in 2014 or Basra in 2008. They didn’t. They were bloodied but they held their ground.

    • J. Doe says:

      Yes, Mr. Mastrovito, you are. Holding ground at the cost of over 50% casualties can hardly be called a success – more like a pyrrhic victory. Insurgencies thrive on forcing opposing forces to defend areas at high cost. The ANA might hold this district today – but with such a loss in manpower, they might very well lose it tomorrow

      • Nick Mastrovito says:

        @J. Doe, again, the headline is extremely deceptive. In the end, ANA held its ground. Why couldn’t the headline say that despite high losses, the ANA held its ground. The reason is that nobody would have read the story!

        • Bill Roggio says:

          Nick, the headline reads “Afghan forces sustain heavy casualties in Taliban assault on southern base.” Casualties were over 50 percent, and most military analysts would consider those to be heavy.

          I never stated the ANA cut & ran, or compared it to the Iraqi Army and Mosul, or much else other that describe the reports of what happened. In fact, I took more time to explain how the Taliban has made gains in that southern belt and used it to further their insurgency.

          The headline didn’t address who held what, because that issue is somewhat confusing. I stated in the article the status of the base is unclear, with the Taliban claiming they overran it and Afghan officials saying they control it. Its likely that the Taliban did indeed overrun it, pillage the base, and left (I’ve seen this far too often.)

          J. Doe and Michael Rhodes are correct in their analysis. Things just got more difficult for the ANA & GoA in Khakrez.

          • Nick Mastrovito says:

            Bill, I’m not arguing that casualties were high, I’m arguing that we misread the events that took place. In Taliban-speak, the fact that they inflicted heavy casualties was a victory. However, unlike al Qaeda and many other Islamist terrorists, the Taliban’s objective is to regain control of Afghanistan and the fact that they are having a difficult time of doing so in their own backyard may indicate just how little progress they have made in the past 16 years. I’m not saying that ANA or GoA are making progress but when the populace believes that their government and their security forces care for them, they will start to care, as well. Again, it was one battle and in the overall picture, it means very little.

            As a retired SF officer and combat vet, however, I think it’s important to call a spade, “a spade” which you clearly didn’t.

          • Bill Roggio says:

            Nick, I don’t understand which spade I didn’t call a spade. You attributed an argument to me that I didn’t make, then proceeded to criticize me for making it. You also accused me of creating a headline merely to garner page views. Our headlines couldn’t be more boring or less sensational. If I wanted to generate traffic, then LWJ would be an entirely different animal.

            Also, al Qaeda’s objective is to take and hold territory. As they have and continue to do in Yemen, Syria, Iraq (previously as al Qaeda in Iraq), Somalia, Mali, etc. I suggest you read up on that; we’ve documented it well here at LWJ.

    • Dick Scott says:

      Does not sound much like a “success” to me. Wishful thinking.

      • Nick Mastrovito says:

        Well, @Dick, if you’ve ever been in combat and at the conclusion of a fire-fight, you maintain control of the terrain you’re on, it was a success because the other choice is your dead or wounded and now a prisoner.

        • Dick Scott says:

          Nick, Never been in combat but worked in Helmand off and on from 1971-05, including several months during the Taliban government, all having to do with the irrigation system and the ag economy and opium poppy, and have some idea of the mentality of the Pashtuns. They have been fighting for nearly 17 years against the most powerful military in the world and their trainees and don’t plan to give up, carrying out raids like this one on a regular basis. They likely consider this one a success even if we don’t. And they have been killing a lot of the ANA in recent times. And don’t the Taliban control areas like Nad-i-Ali, Marja and are fighting in Nawa???Not exactly remote areas of Helmand but the key ag. areas.

    • Gore Karn says:

      Yes. The Taliban say they overran the base.

  • DarH says:

    How can this article state that areas like Kandahar are “remote” when this city is the second- largest city in Afghanistan, with a population of about 491,500 as of 2012.

    • Bill Roggio says:

      Because I am referring to the province of Kandahar, not its provincial capital, which is Kandahar City. This attack took place in the district of Khakrez, which is not Kandahar City.

  • John M. Gillespie says:

    All wars in the end are wars of attrition. Not one sentence describing Taliban loses. One would expect at least three times the casualties to be suffered by an attacking force (Taliban). So the defending force (ANA) at a ‘fortified’ position suffered 26 KIA, 13 WIA, and 8 MIA. The Taliban have lost over a hundred of its fighters, unless the 8 ANA MIA’s were Taliban sympathizers and let the Taliban into the perimeter of the ANA position.

  • Den says:

    The lack of a Taliban body count leaves unanswered questions.

  • madjack says:

    I’d like to see a series of maps indicating all the “not important” and “less vital areas” over the past four years.

  • Haji says:

    Thanks for the good summary. Important to correct that Kandahar is located in the South of the country. The article refers in multiple occasions to it being a Northern province.

    • Bill Roggio says:

      Haji, I am referring to the districts in the northern part of Kandahar, nowhere do I state Kandahar is a northern province.Give it a re-read and you will see it.

      • Dick Scott says:

        And there are plenty “remote” and hard to get to areas in Kandahar province, plenty, and relative to contacts with the local people, the Kandaharies are not always that open to foreigners and may be considered “remote”.

  • Raymond Burroughs says:

    The first time I was in Kandahar was Dec 2001. The situation you describe ” The Taliban is successfully utilizing safe havens in the remote areas of Kandahar, Helmand, Uruzgan, Ghazni, and Zabul to sustain its recent offensives in northern Kandahar” existed then as we pursued Mullah Omar and Osama. The pressure on ISIS in the Iraq/ Syria AOR will have an effect on the current regional distribution of forces for the Taliban as they attempt to make gains on the ground (similar to the FARC approach before they were to finally go to the table to gain political inclusion) while distractions about ISIS relocations abound in the international community.

  • James says:

    This is like watching a train wreck happen in slow motion. What we may be seeing is a repeat of what has happened (for the most part at least for now) in Syria; which is Putin and Iran acting as spoilers. I would love to know what the makeup of a typical Taliban unit is; (i.e., what percentage is of Afghan origin, versus what percentage is of foreign origin).

    • Dick Scott says:

      Along the tribal areas border with Pakistan, we might expect most of the “units” to made up of at least extended relatives. Afghan, Pakistani? the people in these areas do not recognize the “border” and have relatives, land and house on both sides. In the early 80s I visited the area along the S. Waziristan border and drove across the border area to visit a “town” that had been of interest to the Soviets…no border. The peoples” loyalties are to the tribe, sub-tribe, extended family, family, not nationality as we think of it.

      • irebukeu says:

        I wonder how many of these people are the children of the Pakistani-Arab jihadist unions that occurred during the 80’s and 90s. They staged in and egress’d to Pakistan often, fought along side, intermarried. Everything. It was Mohammad Yunus Khalis that invited Osama to live under his protection in Jalalabad. Osama was looking for a retirement home for all his crippled Arab fighters and a safe home for himself.
        How did you wind up there in the 80’s and is there anywhere to read your stories?

        • Dick Scott says:

          I had worked most of the 70s in Afg. as USAID research and evaluation officer, spent another 2 years in northern Mali, just west of Timbuctoo, and developed the project paper and became first project manager for the Tribal Areas Development Project, so spent time in the Tribal areas when the Soviets were dumb enough to be in Afgh. For the Helmand time and opium poppy see my website: scottshelmandvalleyarchives.org

        • Dick Scott says:

          Forgot. My understanding was that Osama as a young man went to Afgh. in about 79 after the Soviet invasion to help fight with his own funding. Left after the Soviets withdrew in about 89 and after a falling out with the Saudis went to Sudan. Was forced to leave under US pressure and the Taliban offered sanctuary because of his past support against the Soviets and the traditional Muslim value of sanctuary. Am I too far off?

          • irebukeu says:

            Yes that is the flow of it. There is an additional mini chapter between fleeing Sudan and being offered Taliban sanctuary. Here is a pretty good source for some information on what went down in 96.
            https://ctc.usma.edu/v2/wp-content/uploads/2013/05/CTC_Yunus-Khalis-Report-Final1.pdf
            I find myself in disagreement with some of its analysis points but the facts seem right.

          • Dick Scott says:

            On a first scan of this report, I don’t see any reference to the nearly 10 years Osama had spent in Afgh. at the time of the Soviets. During that period when he and his Arabs were fighting the Soviets and apparently funding the locals, he must have developed some close relationships with these local groups, no?

  • irebukeu says:

    What a thread! Where is Mike Merlo when you need him? or Blert?

    • Bill Roggio says:

      Mike Merlo went off the deep end. I can’t publish his comments any longer, they are full of expletives and insults. Not sure what happened but it is sad.

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