The Afghan Taliban has overrun three districts previously held by the Afghan government in the provinces of Paktia, Faryab and Ghor over the past several days. The Taliban is demonstrating that it can sustain operations in all theaters of Afghanistan. The three districts are located in three different regions of the country.
The district of Jani Khel in Paktia, a known stronghold of the Haqqani Network – the powerful Taliban subgroup that is based in eastern Afghanistan and in Pakistan’s tribal areas – fell to the Taliban earlier today after several days of heavy fighting, according to Afghan officials and the Taliban. Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said that the district headquarters buildings, the police headquarters and all security checkpoints are under his group’s control. Fighting is underway at a nearby military base.
Jani Khel was effectively under Taliban control. At the end of March, the group claimed that all but six percent of the district was under Taliban control. The Afghan government only controlled the district center, the group claimed.
The districts of Taiwara in Ghor in central Afghanistan, and Kohistan (or Lolash) in Faryab in the northwest fell to the Taliban on July 23 after several days of fighting. TOLONews confirmed that the two districts are now Taliban controlled and “government forces have not yet launched military operations to re-capture these districts.”
The Taliban has also claimed it seized control of Pusht Koh in Farah province and Guzargah in Baghlan, however the reports cannot be independently confirmed. However Taliban reports on the takeover of districts have proven accurate in the pasts.
The loss of the three districts shows that the Taliban is capable of conducting operations in all regions of the country. Even as the three districts fell, the Taliban is on the offensive in all of the other regions. Afghan security forces, which are sustaining record highs in casualties and desertions, is largely on the defensive in most areas of the country.
The state of play of Afghan districts is often difficult to determine. Often, some districts switch hands multiple times over a short period of time. For instance, Nawa district in Helmand province has gone back and forth between the Taliban and the Afghan government four times over the past year. The Afghan government retook it just last week, but the Taliban are fighting to regain control.
In some cases, such as with Jani Khel or all of the districts in Uruzgan province, the Taliban controls all of the district except for the district center, which hosts the government facilities and police headquarters.
Estimates issued by the US military and the Taliban are not that far apart. The US military estimated in the spring that the Taliban now controls or contests 40 percent of Afghanistan’s districts, while the Taliban in late March claimed the number is closer to 50 percent. [See FDD’s Long War Journal reports, Taliban controls or contests 40 percent of Afghan districts: SIGAR and Afghan Taliban lists ‘Percent of Country under the control of Mujahideen’.]
Afghan forces have ceded control of some rural districts to the Taliban, excusing the districts as strategically unimportant. The Taliban has instead used these districts as bases to attack Afghan forces in more populous districts.
Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD’s Long War Journal.