The Taliban retook control of the contested district of Jani Khel in Paktia from Afghan forces last night. The district has changed hands three times over the past two weeks. The repeated loss of Jani Khel to the Taliban demonstrates the difficulties Afghan forces face in holding onto remote contested districts.
Afghan officials and the Taliban both confirmed that Jani Khel fell to the Taliban. An Afghan official told TOLONews that security forces retreated from the district center after Taliban fighters launched their assault.
“The security forces asked for air support during the clashes, but did not receive a response and retreated from the district as a result,” an official told the Afghan news agency.
Paktia province is a known stronghold of the Haqqani Network – the powerful Taliban subgroup based in eastern Afghanistan and in Pakistan’s tribal areas. Sirrajuddin Haqqani, the leader of the Haqqani Network, serves as one of the Taliban’s two deputy emirs.
In a statement released on Voice of Jihad, the Taliban’s official propaganda outlet, the group claimed that “over 12 puppets were killed and at least 17 others suffered injuries” after Taliban fighters took control of the police headquarters, the district administrative center and surrounding security outposts. The Taliban claimed two of its fighters were killed and three more were wounded.
Additionally, the Taliban claimed it “seized from the enemy a large amount of arms, ammunition and other military equipment.” This claim is likely true, as the Taliban confiscated a large number of machine guns, RPG launchers, rifles, and crates of ammunition as well as military vehicles, including US-supplied HUMVEEs and Ford Ranger pickup trucks, when it overran Jani Khel more than two weeks ago.
The district has been consistently contested for more than a year, since the Taliban stormed it on Aug. 27, 2016. Afghan forces retook the district center, but the Taliban remained on the outskirts and threatened Afghan forces stationed there. Last March, the group claimed that all but six percent of the district was under Taliban control.
The Taliban overran the Jani Khel district center on July 25, 2017 and held it for more than a week before Afghan forces retook it on Aug. 4. Afterwards, Afghanistan’s National Directorate of Intelligence claimed it captured a fighter from Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan (SSP), a terrorist group based in Pakistan.
According to the captured SSP fighter, he was trained at a camp inside Pakistan, where leaders from Pakistani terrorist groups Jaish-e-Mohammad, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, and Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan would regularly preach.
“They were asking us to go to Afghanistan for Jihad (holy war),” the fighter said, according to TOLONews. “They asked me to go the eastern part of Afghanistan. Some others were sent to the west and all of them were spread around.”
The SSP fighter may have been a member of al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent, al Qaeda branch in South and Central Asia. Al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent was formed in Sept. 2014 and includes elements of some of Pakistan, Afghanistan, and India’s most prominent jihadist groups. AQIS reports to the Taliban and fights alongside them in Afghanistan.