The Afghan Taliban took control of three districts, one in the province of Wardak which is just south of Kabul, and the other two in the northern province of Kunduz, that were heavily contested during the US troop surge that began in 2010 and ended in 2011. One of the districts was the scene of the Taliban’s shoot down of a US helicopter that resulted in the deaths of 31 special operations personnel, including 17 US Navy SEALs.
Reports from Afghanistan indicate that the district of Sayyidabad in Wardak as well as the districts of Chahar Darah and Dasht-i-Archi in Kunduz province are under the Taiban’s thumb.
A reporter from the BBC recently visited the Tangi Valley in the district of Sayyidabad and noted that the Taliban fully control the district. He was given a tour by Said Rahman, the Taliban’s shadow district governor who is “popularly known as Governor Badr.”
Taliban fighters openly patrol the district during the daytime, while Afghan troops are confined to a small hilltop outpost. Taliban judges mediate land and other disputes. Taxes are collected. Schools, which are funded by the Afghan government, teach the Taliban’s curriculum, while girls are not allowed to attend. [See BBC report, Life inside a Taliban stronghold.]
Further north, in the province of Kunduz, Afghan officials admit that “the Taliban controls virtually all of two out of seven districts in Kunduz – Chahar Darah and Dasht-i-Archi,’ Reuters reports.
“It is gaining influence elsewhere, and residents say it has been able to because what little state authority exists is viewed with deep mistrust,” Reuters continues.
In Kunduz, the Taliban collects a 10 percent tax from farmers and business, mediates disputes in its courts, and runs the local schools.
A senior tribal elder said that the Taliban is well armed and Afghan security forces no longer pursue the Taliban in the districts.
“The local police force, recruited and armed by Western forces, had stopped trying to fight the Taliban altogether,” Reuters notes.
Sayyidabad and Chahar Darah: hotly contested districts in the past
Two of the three districts controlled by the Taliban – Sayyidabad and Chahar Darah – have been major battlegrounds in the past. US special operations forces heavily targeted the Taliban, the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, and al Qaeda in the two districts between 2009 and 2012.
The Tangi Valley in Sayyidabad was the scene of one of the most deadly attacks on US forces since the war in Afghanistan began in late 2001. On Aug. 6, 2011 the Taliban shot down a Chinook helicopter in the district, killing 38 US and Afghan forces, including 17 US Navy SEALS from the Naval Special Warfare Development Group (more commonly referred to as SEAL Team 6). More than one month later, the Taliban detonated a massive suicide bomb outside of Combat Outpost Sayyidabad, killing four Afghans and wounding more than 100 people, including 77 US soldiers.
In September 2011, the Taliban took control of Combat Outpost Tangi, which was abandoned by Afghan forces shortly after the massive suicide attack. The Taliban filmed its forces touring the base and released the video on its website.
Later that month, the US killed Qari Tahir, who the International Security Assistance Force described as the Taliban’s commander in the Tangi Valley, in an airstrike in the Sayyidabad district. Tahir led the force that was involved in the Aug. 6, 2011 shootdown of the US Chinook.
The Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan and al Qaeda are also know to operate in Sayyidabad. In April 2012, the US captured an Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan leader who was planning future large-scale attacks in Kabul, Wardak, and Logar provinces.
In November 2011, the US killed Mujib Rahman Mayar, an Afghan national who served as an al Qaeda facilitator, during a raid in Sayyidabad. Mayar is known to have trained insurgents and acted as a courier delivering messages and money for al Qaeda’s network. Two suspected insurgents were also detained and multiple weapons were seized, including bomb-making materials, firearms, grenades, and ammunition.
Chahar Darah district has also been a hotbed of Taliban, Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), and al Qaeda activity, and is known to have been under Taliban control in the past. US special operations forces targeted the three allied jihadist groups in at least 16 raids between August 2009 and November 2012.
Among those targeted during the US raids in the district were Khadim, an IMU senior leader and Afghan national who was an explosives expert responsible for recruiting and training insurgents for suicide attacks; an unnamed senior IMU leader who facilitates suicide bombers from Pakistan; an unnamed Taliban leader who facilitates foreign suicide bombers, including Chechens and Pakistanis; Saifullah, the Taliban’s shadow governor for the district who led a group of al Qaeda fighters and maintained close ties with senior Taliban and IMU leaders in northern Afghanistan and Pakistan; and an IMU foreign fighter facilitator with ties to Iran’s Qods Force and local Taliban and Iranian-based Uzbek IMU facilitators.
Taliban seek to regain control of Afghanistan
The three districts in Wardak and Kunduz are the latest to fall under the Taliban’s control. The district of Sangin in Helmand province, where US Marines and British troops paid a heavy price to liberate during the surge, was overrun by the Taliban in June. The Afghan military opened peace negotiations with the Taliban in August, a sure sign that it lost its grip on the district. The Afghan military has claimed it regained control of Sangin but the reports cannot be confirmed. Meanwhile, the Taliban claimed on Oct. 20 that it “dismantled” a “strategic joint ANA and police outpost” in the nearby Nawzad district.
In July, the Taliban overran the Char Sada district center in the central province of Ghor. The status of the district is unclear. On Oct. 19, the Taliban claimed that “Arbakis,” or pro-government tribal militias, attacked the district, executed civilians, and burned down a village.
In August, the Taliban massed more than 700 fighters to attack Afghan security personnel in the Charkh district in Logar. The status of the district is unclear, but four soldiers and “scores” of Taliban are reported to have been killed in fighting in the district on Oct. 20.
And in early October, Junood al Fida, a group that is loyal to both the Taliban and al Qaeda, claimed it took control of the remote district of Registan in Kandahar province. The claim has not been confirmed.
The Taliban and the Haqqani Network, a subgroup that is closely tied to al Qaeda and Pakistan’s military and Inter Services Intelligence Directorate, are thought to control districts in the eastern provinces of Ghazni, Zabul, Khost, Paktia, Paktika, Nangarhar, Nuristan, Kunar, and Badakhshan.