Taliban continues to press offensives in endangered districts

As the West continues to hold out hope for peace talks within Afghanistan, the Taliban presses its military efforts to take control of more areas of the country.

The Taliban has claimed it overran five districts in four Afghan provinces since mid-May. Meanwhile, the Afghan military said it liberated a district that was under Taliban control for over two years.

Taliban claims of control of Afghan districts are often difficult to assess without independent confirmation from the press, the Afghan government or military, Resolute Support, or other means. However, Taliban claims of overrunning district centers have proven to be largely accurate over time, often more so than the Afghan government or Resolute Support.

The Taliban said it overran Charsadda in Ghor on May 13, the districts of Shamulzaie and Shinkay (called Seyuri by the Taliban) in Zabul on May 15 and 16 respectively, and Marghab in Badghis and Charchino in Uruzgan on May 31. FDD’s Long War Journal can confirm that the Taliban overran Marghab while there was heavy fighting in the district centers of Shamulzaie, Shinkay, and Charchino. There have been no reports of fighting in Charsadda.

The Afghan military said it ejected the Taliban from Dih Yak’s district center in Ghazni on May 27.

Given this information, as well as past history, LWJ assesses Marghab as Taliban controlled, Charchino, Charsadda, Dih Yak, Shamulzaie, and Shinkay as contested (the Taliban released a video showing its fighters in Shamulzaie and Shinkay’s district center). Each of these districts have been hotly contested over the past several years, and control has changed hands numerous times.

The Taliban often surround district centers, control the outlying areas, and overrun the centers when beleaguered Afghan forces run out of supplies. Taliban fighters will enter the district centers, loot the buildings, and film their activities, only to retreat when Afghan reinforcements show up. The process is often repeated multiple times, eroding the confidence of local Afghanistans in their government and military.

The Taliban has continued to make incremental gains in Afghanistan’s provinces despite the US government’s efforts to reduce the number of districts controlled and contested by the Taliban. The Taliban has been adept at using areas under its control to further its goal of retaking control of the country. In areas the Taliban controls or contests, it raises taxes, produces opium, and recruits, indoctrinates, and trains fighters. It also uses these areas to stage attacks on districts, towns, and cities under government control.

Up until Oct. 2018, the US military and Resolute Support said that district and population control was a key metric to measure the efficacy of US strategy in Afghanistan. Yet, since the US military began tracking these metrics, the Taliban has slowly but steadily increased the number of districts it controls or contests, as well as the number Afghans living in areas it controls, even though the US military did its best to tame the data.

The military ceased collecting this information in Oct. 2018, doing an about face and claiming that the assessments “are not indicative of effectiveness of the South Asia strategy or of progress toward security and stability in Afghanistan, particularly in the wake of the appointment of U.S. Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad.”

“[T]he command no longer believes the data has decision-making value,” the Department of Defense. [See LWJ report, Analysis: US military ends reporting on security situation in Afghanistan’s districts.]

Khalilzad has been appointed to negotiate a peace agreement with the Taliban in order to extricate US forces from Afghanistan. Gen. Austin S. Miller, the current commander of Resolute Support and US Forces -Afghanistan, has said that Khalilzad’s efforts, and not battling the Taliban, is the key metric to follow.

The Taliban, meanwhile, has maintained that it seeks nothing less than US withdrawal from Afghanistan and the reestablishment of the Islamic Emirate. It refuses to talk to the Afghan government and is engaging some members of Afghan society in an effort to divide civil society. While it ties the US and Afghan government up with negotiations, the Taliban continues to fight to gain control of Afghan territory.