Taliban forces overran three district centers in Kandahar, Farah, and Ghazni provinces over the past two days, according to reports from Afghanistan. The jihadist group continues to gain ground in Afghanistan despite a change in US strategy that has reduced restrictions on commanders to launch airstrikes against the group.
The Taliban said it seized Shib Koh district in Farah province, Maruf in Kandahar, and Andar in Ghazni in separate statements released over the past several days on Voice of Jihad, the group’s official website.
Afghan officials and residents of Shib Koh confirmed the Taliban overran the district.
“Right now I am on the roof of my house, watching Taliban blowing up the district center and torching three security forces’ vehicles,” a civilian in the district told Pajhwok Afghan News. The secretary of the Farah provincial capital also confirmed the district was under Taliban control.
A statement released by the Taliban claimed that several security outposts in the district were captured while “as many as 12 Ranger pickups have been destroyed and a ranger pickup, 1 APC, 28 rifles, 5 PK machine guns, 4 RPG launchers, 1 pistol and other equipment were seized as war spoils.”
The Taliban has had a destabilizing influence on Farah province. Of the province’s 11 districts, five are under Taliban control (Qala Ka, Khaki Safed, Bala Buluk, Gulistan, and Shib Koh), and three more are heavily contested (Bakwa, Pusht Rod, and Anar Dara), according to assessments by FDD’s Long War Journal.
The Taliban also reported that it overran Maruf in Kandahar after Afghan forces “fled and abandoned Maruf district administration center due to fear of Mujahideen attacks.” The jihadist group reported 12 Afghan soldiers were killed and 16 others were captured, while Afghan forces torched “all equipment and installations before fleeing” but left behind “a Dshk gun, 6 PKM machine guns, 3 RPG launchers, 13 AK rifles, 1 binocular, 2 mortar tubes and 2 motorbikes behind.”
The Taliban’s claim that it controls Maruf cannot be independently verified by FDD’s Long War Journal, however the report is very likely to be accurate. Similar Taliban reports have proven correct in the past. Maruf District was recently overrun on Sept. 17, when the Taliban raided the base, seized weapons and equipment, and then suddenly withdrew.
The Taliban continues to make inroads in Kandahar province. As of March 26, the Taliban claimed to control five of Kandahar’s 18 districts (Ghorak, Miyanashin, Registan, Shorabak, and Maruf) and heavily contest four more (Arghastan, Khakrez, 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.
In Ghazni, the Taliban said it overran Andar (Shilgar), after surrounding the district center and assaulting it for weeks. Afghan officials confirmed the Taliban attacked the district center and killed 15 policemen. Of Ghazni’s 18 districts, three are controlled by the Taliban, and eight more are contested.
The Taliban has remained on the offensive in all regions of Afghanistan, despite the fact that the US military has loosened the rules of engagement to target the Taliban and give more discretion to US commanders to launch air strikes and other kinetic operations. While the US military is deploying an additional 3,000 troops to Afghanistan, they will primarily serve as advisers to the Afghan military and police. Meanwhile, the Taliban has launched dozens of attacks using hundreds of fighters in broad daylight with little fear of being targeted via airstrikes.