Taliban seizes remote district in Afghan north

The Taliban overran a remote district in the northern province of Badakhshan today after seizing a lapis lazuli mine there last week. Security in Badakhshan has gradually worsened over the past five years since the Afghan military and police took full control of security in the province. Al Qaeda and other foreign terrorist groups have a significant presence in the northern province.

The district of Keran wa Manjan was overrun today, Afghan officials and the Taliban confirmed. The district center fell after the Taliban launched a “a coordinated attack,” the chief of police for Badakhshan said, according to Pajhwok Afghan News.

Taliban spokesman Zahihullah Mujahid noted that the district fell in a short statement on his Twitter account.

“Keran wa Manjan district HQ, police HQ along with all defense CPs & buildings overrun by Mujahidin this morning resulting in tens of gunmen killed/wounded & large amount weapons/equipment/vehicles seized,” Mujahid tweeted.

District officials began warning about increasing insecurity in Keran wa Manjan over the past week. On July 17, the Taliban seized control of a lapis lazuli mine in the district. The mineral is used to fund the Taliban’s insurgency. Today, before the district fell, residents told TOLONews that “the security forces need reinforcement and air support to improve the situation,” and warned that the district was in danger of falling to the Taliban.

The security situation in Badakhshan, like many other provinces in Afghanistan, has worsened over the past five years after the US turned over security responsibilities to the Afghan military and police. Today, the Taliban controls four of Badakhshan’s 28 district and contests 16 more. Only eight districts are under control of the government, according to an ongoing study by FDD’s Long War Journal. Two of the districts, Warduj and Yamagan, have been under Taliban control since 2015.

Badakhshan is a haven for foreign jihadist groups

A recent report by the United Nations noted that al Qaeda is “seeking to strengthen its presence in Badakhshan province, especially in Shighnan district, which shares a border with Tajikistan.” The report estimated that “there are approximately 500 foreign terrorist fighters in Badakhshan province who are from Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, the North Caucasus and Pakistan,” who “operate under the umbrella of the Taliban.” The foreign fighters are primarliy funded by al Qaeda as well as the Taliban.

The UN report also noted that the Turkistan Islamic Party “maintains a presence in Taliban-held areas of Badakhshan province.” In March 2018, the US military struck a Taliban camp in Warduj district that was used to train members of the Turkistan Islamic Party, a key ally of al Qaeda.

The US is seeking to ink a peace deal with the Taliban, and one of the four key conditions is that the Taliban must stop foreign terrorist groups from operating on Afghan soil. Yet al Qaeda, the Turkistan Islamic Party, and a host of foreign jihadist groups are an integral part of the Taliban’s operations in provinces such as Badakhshan.

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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