Taliban threatens Panjshir province

Afghan security forces scrambled to defend the relatively peaceful and secure province of Panjshir this week after the Taliban seized a district in neighboring Badakhshan. 

The narrative stemming from US military and diplomatic officials is that the Taliban has sought control of districts to boost its negotiating position in so-called peace talks, but the reality is that the Taliban has a long-term military plan to gain control of strategic areas in order to reestablish its Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan.

The Taliban indicated in the recent past that Panjshir is one of those strategic areas.

Just two weeks after the Taliban raised its flag over Keran wa Manjan district in Badakhshan, the Afghan military, police, “public uprising forces,” and “former Mujahideen fighters” in Panjshir organized to defend Paryan district, TOLONews reported

“We are deployed here precisely in the border between Panjshir and Badakhshan to defend our area,” Panjshir Police Chief Mohammad Ishaq Tamkin told the Afghan news agency.

Paryan districts borders Keran wa Manjan, which was overrun on July 22. The Taliban laid siege to Keran wa Manjan for more than a year before security forces finally abandoned it. 

Paryan is surrounded by six districts; three of them are contested by the Taliban (Puli Hisar and Khost wal Firing in Baghlan, and Mandal in Nuristan), one is Taliban controlled, and the other two are government controlled (Khenj in Parwan and Warsaj in Takhar).

In a report released on Dec. 5, 2018, titled “A summary of Jihadi progress in Panjsher province,” the Taliban discussed the importance of Panjshir. Paryan was the first district mentioned in the report, and the Taliban noted that Keran wa Manjan was key to threatening it and the vital Salang Pass.

“During the reign of the Islamic Emirate [from 1996 to 2001], this route [the Salang Pass] remained opened as a main supply line from the north for the then warlords [Northern Alliance] of the area,” the report noted. 

The Taliban then claimed to control the supply lines leading into Panjshir. While the claim was exaggerated at the time, the Taliban noted the strategic importance of the province as well as its effort to isolate it. 

“Currently, the geostrategic location of ‘Panjsher’ province is quite significant for Mujahidin from Jihadi and military point of view, as all main supply lines and routes which lead to this province are under their control. In other words, we can say that ‘Panjsher’ province is besieged by the heroic Mujahidin of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan,” it claimed.

The Taliban isn’t conducting military operations merely to increase its leverage in negotiations, as is commonly claimed. It has a military plan that matches its political objective to reimpose the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan. 

The Taliban is quite clear about this in its communications. And its actions match its words.

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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