Since agreement with U.S., Taliban has attacked Afghan forces in 27 of 34 provinces

The Taliban has launched attacks against Afghan security forces in 27 of the country’s 34 provinces since it signed an agreement with the U.S. that facilitates the withdrawal of American troops.

Many of these operations are not “small, low-level attacks,” as General Mark Milley, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff characterized them last week.

The Taliban has now claimed credit for 147 attacks since resuming offensive operations against Afghan security forces on March 3, just three days after signing what many have wrongly characterized as a “peace agreement.”

That reported number of attacks – and percentage of provinces hit – may actually be on the low end.

The Taliban claimed credit for those attacks in statements released on Voice of Jihad, its official website which is published in English, Dari, Pashto, Urdu, and Arabic. This number is merely a subset of the attacks carried out by the Taliban; these are only the attacks the Taliban chose to publicize. Note that while the Taliban often exaggerates the result of its operations, it rarely lies about the attacks themselves.

The Taliban operations have occurred nationwide, in 27 of the country’s 34 provinces, with the exception of Baymian, Daykundi, Ghor, Nuristan, Panjshir, Samangan, and Takhar provinces.

These expansive operations are being not carried out by what U.S. Secretary of Defense Mark Esper characterized last week as Taliban “hard-liners” who were failing to honor a reduction in violence agreement. In fact, the Taliban’s official spokesmen has stated that the group was not bound to maintain a reduction in violence, and vowed to resume attacks against Afghan forces. They have done just that. [See FDD’s Long War Journal report, U.S. military perplexed by Taliban living up to letter of agreement.]

Rather, the Taliban’s pattern of operations is clear evidence of a systematic effort by the group to resume violence across the country and put additional pressure on an already overstretched Afghan military and police.

Based on the Taliban’s claimed attacks, Helmand remains the most violent province, followed by Balkh, Kandahar, Kunduz and Nangarhar. These five provinces have consistently seen the most violence in Afghanistan.

Downplaying the Taliban’s military operations

Last week, General Milley downplayed the Taliban attacks as largely inconsequential while testifying to the Senate Armed Services Committee. The Taliban was, per its agreement with the U.S., not attacking American forces, but only Afghan forces.

Milley said the Taliban violence consisted of “small, low-level attacks out at checkpoints, etc.,”

“Of significance: There’s no attacks on 34 provincial capitals; there’s no attacks in Kabul; there’s no high-profile attacks; there’s no suicide bombers; there’s no vehicle-born suicide [bombs]; no attack against U.S. forces; no attack against the coalition,” Milley optimistically noted. “There’s a whole laundry list of these things that aren’t happening.”

However, based on the Taliban reports, the group has conducted several significant ambushes, firefights and roadside bombings against Afghan forces in nine provincial capitals: Farah City, Gardez, Ghazni, Jalalabad, Kunduz City, Lashkar Gah, Maiden Shahr, Pul-i-Khurmi, and Tarin Kot.

While these attack may seem less than high profile, they are no less deadly to the beleaguered Afghan security forces. Additionally, as FDD’s Long War Journal has noted for years, the Taliban has focused much of its fighting in Afghanistan’s rural districts to position itself to attack Afghan forces after the U.S. military withdrawals.

The Taliban effectively controls districts that surround several provincial capitals, as well as the roadways that lead into these capitals. Farah City, Ghazni City, Kunduz City, Lashkar Gah, Maimana, and Tirin Kot are all essentially surrounded by the Taliban.

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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