UN report on Taliban controlled and contested districts tracks with LWJ data

A report from the United Nations Analytic Support and Sanctions Monitoring Team reaffirms what FDD’s Long War Journal has been diligently tracking: the Taliban contests or controls “an estimated 50 to 70 per cent of Afghan territory” and “[exerts] direct control over 57 per cent of district administrative centers.”

The U.N.’s estimate is very similar and consistent with FDD’s Long War Journal reporting on the Taliban controlled and contested districts.

The findings on the status of Taliban controlled and contested districts were presented by the Analytical Support and Sanctions Monitoring Team in a report issued on June 1. The information is provided to the UN team by “Member States.” Point 29 is reproduced below:

29. According to Member States, the Taliban now contest or control an estimated 50 to 70 per cent of Afghan territory outside of urban centres, while also exerting direct control over 57 per cent of district administrative centres.

Letter dated 20 May 2021 from the Chair of the Security Council Committee established pursuant to resolution 1988 (2011) addressed to the President of the Security Council, June 1, 2021.

FDD’s Long War Journal has maintained a map of Taliban controlled and contested districts since 2014. The map is based on open-source information, such as press reports and information provided by government agencies, the Taliban, and occasionally from confidential sources. A fuller picture of the status of the Afghan districts became clear in 2018, when the U.S. military began releasing data on the status of all of all of Afghanistan’s 407 districts. Additionally, since 2018 the Afghan press began to report closely on the status of Afghanistan’s districts, providing a clearer picture.

LWJ and the U.S. military’s assessments tracked closely, with on average a 5 to 15 percent difference. The U.S. military tended to provide a more rosy assessment of the status of the districts, and canceled its reporting once it was clear the assessments did not show progress. 

There isn’t a direct correlation between the assessments provided by the United Nations and LWJ. The data in the United Nations Analytical Support and Sanctions Monitoring Team report ends in April, while LWJ is assessing the status of each district in near real time (the map is updated with new information daily).

Much has happened in Afghanistan since April, and the security situation has worsened. For instance, on Thursday, the Taliban overran Gizab district in Uruzgan (this update will be reflected in LWJ’s map on June 4 as the map updates overnight.) The status of Gizab and other districts which have become contested or fell under Taliban control since April are not reflected in the UN report.

Today, according to LWJ‘s assessment, 89 of Afghanistan’s 407 districts are Taliban controlled (22 percent), and another 211 are contested (53 percent). In total, 75 percent of Afghanistan’s districts are either contested or controlled by the Taliban. The United Nations estimates that the Taliban contests or controls between 50 and 70 percent of Afghanistan’s territory.

The U.N. report does not provide a full breakdown of districts that are Taliban controlled and contested, only the estimated percentage of area that the Taliban controls or contests. However, it does note that the Taliban exerts “direct control over 57 per cent of district administrative centres,” or 232 of Afghanistan’s 407 districts. This may mean that while the Taliban controls the district center, it may not control the entire district. For instance, the Afghan government may control a base or villages in the district, but not the district center. LWJ assesses a district whose center is administered by the Taliban to be Taliban controlled.

Whatever differences there may be between the UN and LWJ‘s reporting, both tell a similar story of a deteriorating security situation where the Afghan government is slowly but clearly losing ground to 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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