Taliban flaunts apparent control in Kandahar district

In a newly released Taliban video, the group documented an overnight assault on a military base in the southern province of Kandahar. The base was situated in the highly contested district of Khakrez, where the Taliban has overrun several military outposts and took control of the district center for a short period of time last year.

The video, entitled “From the Fronts of Khakrez,” was released today on Voice of Jihad, the Taliban’s official propaganda website. The Taliban described Khakrez as “one of the strategic northern districts of Kandahar province which has experienced Jihadi triumphs over the course of last and this year including the take over of large military bases, check posts and briefly, the district center itself.”

A large portion of the video detailed a nighttime assault on a military outpost in the district. A Taliban media operative recorded the attack through a night-vision device. One of the Taliban fighters seen in the video appears to have a helmet mounted night-vision device. After an intense firefight, which included several massive explosions, Taliban fighters entered the base.

The Taliban fighters fought an extended battle and remained at the base through the following day, without fear of being targeted by Coalition or Afghan aircraft. During daylight hours, the Taliban flaunted military equipment seized during the raid, which included AK-47 assault rifles and ammunition, rockets, mortars, and pickup trucks that belonged to the Afghan National Police and the Afghan Local Police.

In an earlier video segment, the Taliban paraded its forces through Khakrez during daylight hours. Taliban trucks, cars and motorcycles, all flying the Taliban’s distinctive white banner, moved throughout the district unimpeded by Afghan or Coalition air power.

The video that documented the fighting in Khakrez in a series of Taliban propaganda that touts the group’s successes against Afghan security forces. The Taliban has made significant gains throughout Afghanistan over the past several years. The US military recently admitted that the Taliban controls 14 percent of Afghanistan’s 401 districts and contests another 30 percent.

FDD’s Long War Journal has independently tracked Taliban controlled and contested districts since mid-2015. The numbers closely mirror those provided by SIGAR, as LWJ’s definition of control roughly matches the definition used by the US military and SIGAR for control and influence. Currently, LWJ counts 45 districts (11 percent) under Taliban control, 117 confirmed contested (29 percent), as well as another 24 districts (six percent) where the Taliban claims a measure of control but their claim cannot be independently verified (see map). The Taliban does not often exaggerate claims of control.

District under fire

Over the past year, Khakrez has been hotly contested by the Taliban. The district center was overrun and occupied briefly in Oct. of 2017.

The Taliban has also overrun several military bases and outposts in the district since the summer of 2017. In one attack, in Oct. 2017, Afghan forces took nearly 100 percent casualties after the Taliban overran the base. Of the 60 soldiers stationed there, 43 were killed, nine were wounded, and six more were reported missing.

While Khakrez has been assessed by LWJ to be contested as the government currently controls the district center, it may be more realistic to label it as Taliban controlled. The Taliban appears to have freedom of movement in the district and is able to mass its forces for attacks at will. The Afghan government and military likely control the district center and little else in Khakrez.

The Taliban continues to make inroads in Kandahar province. Last year, 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). LWJ 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.

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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