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Taliban overruns 2 districts in eastern Afghanistan

The Taliban overran the district centers of Omna and Gayan in the eastern province of Paktika today after several days of heavy fighting. The Taliban takeover of the two districts occurred as US generals attempted to put a positive spin on the Afghan military’s capabilities.

“After almost two days of heavy fighting, Taliban captured both district centres,” a member of Paktika’s provincial council told Reuters. At least three Afghan security personnel were killed, the council member said.

The Taliban confirmed that it took control of Gayan. In a statement released on its official website, Voice of Jihad, the Taliban said that it prevented security forces from reaching the beleaguered district center for five days and Afghan personnel fled due to the lack of reinforcements.

“With escape of enemy the said district completely came under the control of Mujahideen as all other areas of the district were already overtaken by Mujahideen,” the Taliban claimed.

Both Omna and Gayan districts have been highly contested over the past year. Omna changed hands between the Taliban and the Afghan government multiple times in 2017. The Taliban overran Gayan in Sept. 2017 but lost control of the district center shortly thereafter. The Taliban controlled most of the area outside of both district centers.

Paktika province remains highly contested. Of the 19 districts, three are controlled by the Taliban, four by the Afghan government, and the remaining 12 are contested, according to an ongoing study by FDD’s Long War Journal.

The loss of Gayan and Omna occurred just four days after US Army Major General Andrew Poppas, Resolute Support’s deputy chief of staff for operations, touted the prowess of the Afghan military since the government’s unilateral ceasefire ended more than three weeks ago. After citing an Afghan-supplied (and likely highly inflated) body count of 1,700 insurgents killed and wounded during a three week period, Poppas said the Afghan military is taking the fight to the Taliban. [See LWJ report, NATO command touts body count of ‘Taliban irreconcilables’.]

“The results seen on the battlefield are obvious, the ANDSF [Afghan National Defense and Security Forces] are growing in capacity, proficiency and lethality,” said Poppas. “They take the fight to the enemy and continue to remove all who oppose them at every turn.”

However, Afghan security forces, which are more numerous, better armed, and have the backing of the United States military, were not able to oppose Taliban forces assaulting Omna and Gayan districts.

US officials have consistently misled the American public about the situation on the ground in Afghanistan. For instance, in mid-May, Pentagon Spokesperson Dana White described the Taliban is “desperate” and only hits “soft targets” during its operations. White also said that “The Taliban has not had the initiative,” despite the fact that the Taliban was in the process of overrunning several districts and military bases, and even took control of parts of Farah City, during that timeframe. [See LWJ report, Pentagon spokesperson doubles down on ‘desperate’ Taliban comment.]

Poppas and White have not been alone in downplaying the Taliban’s offensive operations and the weakness of Afghan security forces. Just yesterday, General Joseph Votel, commander of US Central Command, told reporters that “there is cause for cautious optimism and evidence that our South Asia strategy is working” and military operations are pushing the Taliban to negotiate. The truth is the Taliban has consistently stated it would not negotiate with the Afghan government, which it views as illegitimate and un-Islamic.

Bill Roggio :Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD's Long War Journal.