The Taliban overran the district of Bilchiragh in the northern province of Faryab after besieging it for more than a week. More than 100 Afghan security personnel are reportedly missing. This latest fall of another northern district is part of a disturbing pattern of Afghan forces being surrounded by the Taliban and then either overwhelmed or forced to surrender.
The head of Faryab’s provincial council confirmed that the Bilchiragh district center was surrounded by the Taliban for more than one week before it fell. At least 40 Afghan soldiers defending it were captured, according to ATN News. The final toll may be worse: TOLONews reported that more than 100 Afghan security personnel are remain unaccounted for.
In statement released on its official website, Voice of Jihad, the Taliban confirmed that its fighters took control of Bilchiragh and claimed that Afghan forces surrendered before the Taliban’s final assault.
“Mujahideen were planning to attack Balcheragh district administration center, police headquarter, bases, defensive check posts and other installation overnight, but the enemy troops have laid arms before Mujahideen after getting news of Mujahideen attacks, saving their precious lives,” the Taliban said.
Security in Faryab province has deteriorated over the past several years. Currently, the Taliban controls three of Faryab’s 14 districts, and contests seven more, according to a study by FDD’s Long War Journal. The district of Bilchiragh had been contested since the Taliban seized the administrative seat and then abandoned it in May 2018.
In May 2018, the Afghan military identified Maimana, Faryab’s provincial capital, as one of seven provincial capitals that were under direct Taliban threat. The Taliban has pressured Maimana by controlling the terrain outside of the city. [See LWJ report, Afghan military identifies 7 provincial capitals ‘under pressure’.]
The Taliban has been able to mass its forces in Faryab and elsewhere and overwhelm what should be numerically superior Afghan forces. Afghan soldiers and police have repeatedly complained that they call higher command for reinforcements and a resupply of food and ammunition, but their calls go unanswered.
This same situation occurred in Faryab just one week ago, in the district of Ghormach. The Taliban overran the Chenayeeha (or Chinese) base after a three day siege. At least 43 soldiers were killed, 17 more were captured during the fighting, and more than 40 surrendered after the Afghan military failed to send reinforcements and supplies.
Such attacks are not isolated only to Faryab. In the past week, the Taliban overran the Abdullah military encampment in Baghlan province and killed 36 soldiers and nine Afghan Local Policemen. In Ghazni, while the Taliban was assaulting Ghazni City, the Taliban overran a company of elite Afghan Army Commandos who were protecting the Ajristan district center.
The Taliban has used its control of rural districts to surround exposed Afghan military bases and outposts. Resolute Support’s response to the Taliban’s absolute control of rural areas is to advise Afghan forces to pull back from more remote bases and checkpoints and protect the more populous areas of the country.
However, as the recent assault on Ghazni and Farah cities demonstrates – on top of the more historical assaults in Kunduz City in 2015 and 2016 – the Taliban has used its mastery of the rural areas to threaten major population centers as well.