Taliban assaults district center south of Kabul

The Taliban overran the district center of Sayyidabad in Wardak province and killed the district chief of police before withdrawing. Wardak is due south of Kabul, and the Taliban has been active in the area over the past several days.

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said on his Twitter account that the Sayyidabad “district HQ, police HQ & all security CPs” were “overrun,” and “dozens of gunmen [were] killed, [and a] large amount light/heavy weaponry, ammunition & vehicles [were] seized.”

Mujahid’s claim was supported by accounts in the Afghan press. A member of Wardak’s provincial council confirmed that the district center was overrun after “hundreds of militants stormed the district centre” and the district’s police chief was killed, Pajhwok Afghan News reported. During the fighting, “major power lines serving the district have been cut,” which cut power in Ghazni, Logar and Paktia provinces, according to TOLONews.

The Taliban appears to have withdrawn from the district center, but likely still maintains a strong presence outside of it, as it has for the past several years. Sayyidabad has been hotly contested for nearly eight years, and has sheltered al Qaeda and Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan commanders in the past.

The Tangi Valley in Sayyidabad was the scene of one of the most deadly attacks on US forces since the war in Afghanistan began in late 2001. On Aug. 6, 2011 the Taliban shot down a Chinook helicopter in the district, killing 38 US and Afghan forces, including 17 US Navy SEALS from the Naval Special Warfare Development Group (more commonly referred to as SEAL Team 6). More than one month later, the Taliban detonated a massive suicide bomb outside of Combat Outpost Sayyidabad, killing four Afghans and wounding more than 100 people, including 77 US soldiers.

In September 2011, the Taliban took control of Combat Outpost Tangi, which was abandoned by Afghan forces shortly after the massive suicide attack. The Taliban filmed its forces touring the base and released the video on its website.

By 2014, Taliban fighters were openly patrolling the Tangi Valley during the daytime, while Afghan forces were confined to a hilltop base, according to a BBC reporter who visited the area. Taxes were collected, and schools, which are funded by the Afghan government, taught the Taliban’s curriculum. Girls were not permitted to attend school.

Sayyidabad is one of seven of Wardak’s nine districts that are contested by the Taliban; only two districts are under the government’s control, according to a study by FDD’s Long War Journal.

The fighting in Sayyidabad took place as the Taliban has been active in Paktia and Ghazni provinces. In Ghazni, the Taliban destroyed three bridges and shut down a section of the Kabul-Kandahar Highway, a stretch of Afghanistan’s major roadway that is known as the Ring Road. The Taliban also destroyed a 5km section of road on the Ghazni-Paktika highway, which has been closed for more than four months. In Paktia, the Taliban has ordered cellular companies to shut down service during the nighttime.

Fighting in eastern Afghanistan has intensified over the past year as the Taliban has stepped up its operations in the region. Hundreds of Taliban fighters stormed Ghazni City at the beginning of August and occupied areas of the city for four days before the Afghan military, with the help of US forces, were able to organize and drive the Taliban out. The Taliban also overran several districts in Ghazni during this time.

Earlier this year, the US Department of Defense claimed that the Taliban has not had the initiative, but instead it has launched attacks on soft targets out of desperation. However the Taliban’s operations throughout the country has disproved the Pentagon’s narrative. Afghan security forces are taking casualties at a record pace, and Taliban controlled and contested districts are at an all time high.

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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