Taliban has ‘surrounded’ five Afghan provincial capitals

The Taliban has “surrounded” five provincial capitals in Afghanistan as of Feb. 2021, according to the Lead Inspector General for Operation Freedom’s Sentinel.

FDD’s Long War Journal has assessed that 17 of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces are now under direct Taliban threat. For information on districts controlled and contested by the Taliban, see LWJ report, Mapping Taliban Control in Afghanistan.

The Lead Inspector General for Operation Freedom’s Sentinel report, which was released on May 18 and covers the first three months of 2021, painted a bleak picture of security situation in Afghanistan. The groundwork for the Taliban’s efforts to reestablish its Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan by force of arms has been laid over the past several years with its successful effort to gain control of rural district that surround provincial capitals. Now, the Inspector General noted, the Taliban is preparing for “large-scale offensives against provincial centers.”

“This quarter, the DIA [Defense Intelligence Agency] reported that the Taliban’s military strategy very likely focuses on preparation for large-scale offensives against provincial centers, complex attacks against ANDSF [Afghan National Defense and Security Forces] and National Directorate for Security (NDS) installations, and degrading ANDSF capabilities,” the report noted.

Five provincial capitals, Pul-I-Khumri (Baghlan) and Kunduz City in the north, as well as Kandahar City, Lashkar Gah (Helmand), and Tarin Kot (Uruzgan) in the south, have been “surrounded” and the Taliban “has conducted attacks against military and intelligence targets” as of Feb. 2021.

These cities, and 12 others, remain under direct Taliban threat, according to an ongoing study of the security situation in Afghanistan’s districts.

The Taliban has followed a classic guerrilla strategy of gaining control of or contesting areas outside of urban centers in order to prepare for the next phase: taking control of the cities. In each of these cities, the Taliban has either directly invaded and briefly seized control of the city centers (Kunduz, Farah, and Ghazni), controls neighborhoods within the cities, taxes citizens and imposes its harsh brand of Islamic law, or frequently attacks security outposts in and around the city.

In the north, the Taliban directly threatens the provincial capitals of Maimana (Faryab), Sar-I-Pul, Mazar-I-Sharif (Balkh), Aybak (Samangan), Pul-I-Khumri (Baghlan), Kunduz City, Taluqan (Takhar), and Fayzabad (Badakhshan).

In the south, the Taliban threatens Lashkar Gah, Kandahar City, and Tarin Kor (Uruzgan).

In the east, the Taliban threatens Ghazni City, Pul-i-Alam (Logar), Maydan Shahr (Wardak), and Mihtarlam (Laghman).

In the west, the Taliban threatens Maimana (Faryab), Farah City, and Qala-I-Naw (Badghis).

Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of The Long War Journal. Caleb Weiss is an intern at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and a contributor to The Long War Journal.

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