The US military says it struck “a command and control node for high-level Taliban leaders” overnight in the Taliban-controlled district of Musa Qala in Helmand province via an artillery system. The Taliban denied that a command center was hit and claimed two civilian homes were destroyed in the strike.
US Forces-Afghanistan (USFOR-A) announced the strike in a statement released on Resolute Support’s website. According to USFOR-A, the strike was carried out by Task Force-Southwest, which was deployed to Helmand one year ago “to train, advise and assist the Afghan National Army 215th Corps and 505th Zone Afghan National Police.”
Task Force-Southwest also possesses offensive capabilities and more than 300 US Marines are deployed with the task force. Today’s strike was executed using the M142 High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS), a truck mounted multiple launch rocket platform was that deployed with part of the task force.
“The structure was a known meeting location for prominent Taliban leaders, where they planned and facilitated attacks against Afghan National Defense and Security Forces, who are supporting election security in the area,” USFOR-A stated.
The Taliban denied that its command and control capacity was hit in the strike. Spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid claimed that no Taliban leaders were present in the “two residential homes” destroyed.
Helmand is one of Afghanistan’s most troubled provinces. Of Helmand’s 13 districts, six are controlled by the Taliban (including Musa Qala) and seven are contested, according an ongoing study by FDD’s Long War Journal.
“A weakened enemy”
Brigadier General Benjamin T. Watson, the commander of Task Force-Southwest, said that the strike allowed the Afghan military and police to “maintain the offensive” against the Taliban.
“Strikes like this one not only degrade Taliban operations, but also give our partners the ability to maintain continuous pressure against a weakened enemy,” Watson continued.
Watson’s description of a “weakened” Taliban is consistent with that of Pentagon Spokesperson Dana White, who has claimed the group is “desperate” and “losing ground.”
Despite Watson’s assertions, the Taliban does not appear to be weakened, nor are Afghan forces effectively losing ground on the offensive. The Taliban has maintained the initiative and has forced Afghan security forces to react to their operations. The Taliban is on the offensive in all regions of Afghanistan. Since announcing the beginning of its 2018 offensive, the Taliban assaulted Farah City and overran six district centers as Afghan forces were caught flat footed. Afghanistan’s Ministry of Defense has admitted that seven provincial capitals are under direct Taliban threat. Meanwhile, the Taliban controls 41 district centers and contests 203 more, meaning they stake a claim in nearly 60 percent of Afghanistan’s 407 districts, according to LWJ‘s assessment.
US defense officials and military commanders have hailed the fact that Afghan forces ultimately ejected the Taliban from Farah City, but never asked the hard question: how was the group able to amass its forces and assault a provincial capital? The answer is simple: NATO and Afghan commanders have downplayed the Taliban’s control of rural areas, which it uses to build its strength and threaten populated areas.