Taliban storms district headquarters in Zabul province

The Taliban overran Mizan district in the southern province of Zabul today. The district was under siege for more than one year before it fell, according to the Taliban. Security in Zabul province, which is a known haven for al Qaeda and straddles the border with Pakistan, has deteriorated over the past five years. Al Qaeda operated a base in Mizan as recently as Sept. 2016.

In a statement released on Voice of Jihad, the Taliban reported that Mizan’s “district administration center, police head quarter and other security installations that were under tight siege of Mujahideen for the last one year have been overrun completely at noon hours today.”

Additionally, the Taliban said that the Afghan forces abandoned the district and were ambushed as they retreated.

Press reports support the Taliban’s claim that the district has been unstable for the past year. The district’s police chief was killed in an attack in Oct. 2018. The Afghan military launched a night raid against the Taliban in the district in June.

The Taliban’s report of overrunning Mizan has not yet been confirmed by the major Afghan news outlets, however it was reported in the Afghan Islamic Press.

FDD’s Long War Journal assesses the Taliban’s claim as credible. Previous Taliban reports of overrunning districts have been highly accurate and later have proven to be true, while the Afghan government and military often attempt to downplay the Taliban’s territorial gains.

The Afghan government’s grip on Zabul is tenuous. Four of Zabul’s 11 districts are controlled by the Taliban, six more are contested, and only one is under government control.

Zabul province is a known haven for al Qaeda, which remains closely allied with the Taliban to this day. Al Qaeda is known to have operated a base in Mizan district. In Sept. 2016, the Afghan National Directorate of Security raided an al Qaeda encampment in the district. A recent report by the United Nations identified Zabul as one of three provinces “with the most significant numbers” of al Qaeda operatives present (the other two are Badakhshan and Kunar).

Al Qaeda has long viewed Zabul as friendly territory. While the US drone campaign that targeted and killed al Qaeda leaders and operatives in Pakistan heated up in 2009 and 2010, Osama bin Laden advised the group to relocate key commanders and family to the provinces of Nuristan, Kunar, Ghazni, and Zabul. [See FDD’s Long War Journal report, Bin Laden advised relocation of some leaders to Afghanistan due to drone strikes in Waziristan.]

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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4 Comments

  • Robert Bentley says:

    Bill, I’ve long noted the anomaly of assessing a district as “contested” when USMil and Taliban agree that everything but the district center is under Taliban control. An ANSF presence that is pinned down in the district center is hardly “contesting” Taliban control of the rest of the district. Ceding to the reality that Taliban control claims are often more credible than those of GIROA or USMil probably would yield a more genuine understanding of the ground truth.

    That said, you guys are doing a great job with a difficult issue.

    • Bill Roggio says:

      I do agree, however I err on the side of caution/being conservative. The fact is that a contested district is about as bad as a Taliban controlled district.

  • George Phillies says:

    In their various announcements, the Taliban regularly claim to have destroyed an enemy tank. Numbers may well be overstated.* Nonetheless: One might wonder what sort of armored vehicle they are calling a “tank”. Surely not an Abrams or an M60A1, and one might expect their supply of old Soviet T34/85s has long since worn out. Ideas?

    In addition, with some frequency they claim to have captured armored personnel carriers. What are they doing with them? The Afghan National Army outpost strategy, defend everywhere defends nothing, appears to leave outposts that are not well-equipped to handle even ligthly armored vehicles.

    *On the other hand, their recent claim of full control of tens of districts, including capitals, matches your number more or less.

  • Mike Smith says:

    Since the U.S. military stopped keeping track, this district map has been especially valuable. A suggestion to improve it: Indicate the definitions of “contest” and “control.” It appears the old military classification of “contested” was that a small garrison of government soldiers and policemen remained holed up in the district center like the defenders of the Alamo, while the Taliban controlled everything else in the district. That’s very misleading in military and political terms. What is the LWJ criteria for “contested”?

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