Taliban contests 2 new Afghan districts

Two districts previously assessed by Resolute Support as “influenced by the government of Afghanistan” are now at risk. FDD’s Long War Journal has determined, based on recent press reporting, that Matta Khan in Paktika province in eastern Afghanistan, and Tashkan in Badakhshan in the north, are now contested districts.

The Taliban forced the closing of all schools in Matta Khan after it “issued warnings over using the schools as voter registration centers,” Pajhwok Afghan News reported on May 1. Tribal elders in the district failed in “resolving the problem through talks with the Taliban.”

In Tashkan, the Taliban attacked the district center and killed 20 security personnel and captured three policemen, Afghan officials told ATN News.

As of Oct. 2017, Resolute Support – NATO’s command in Afghanistan – assessed both Matta Khan and Tashkan as government influenced. However, the fact that the Taliban forced the closure of schools in Matta Khan and inflicted heavy casualties on security forces in Tashkan is a clear indication that security in these two districts is worse than claimed by Resolute Support.

LWJ has maintained that attempting to track the status of all 407 Afghan districts is a difficult task, as often there is little to no reporting from many of the more remote districts. LWJ believes there are many more districts like these two where security is breaking down, but news is not surfacing in reporting.

Additionally, LWJ believes that the difference between our assessment of the number of Taliban controlled and contested districts — 241 as of May 2 — and Resolute Support’s estimate — 178 as of Jan. 31 — can be explained by two factors: the time difference between reports and the defined “government influence” assessment used by Resolute Support.

First, Resolute Support’s data, which is published by the Special Investigator General for Afghanistan (SIGAR) in its quarterly report, is three months old by the time it is released. LWJ is updating its information on districts on a daily basis; changes to LWJ’s data is in real time.

Second, LWJ does not use the “influence” assessment. LWJ believes the distinction is somewhat meaningless, as it essentially allows Resolute Support to bend the numbers to pain the rosiest picture possible. Many districts assessed as “government influenced” have been overrun by the Taliban months before or currently have significant security issues (again the time factor can play a role in this issues).

Regardless, if the Taliban controls or contest 178 districts (43.7%) as Resolute Support maintains – or 58.5%, as LWJ estimates – or somewhere in between, the situation in Afghanistan is tenuous.

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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