Center for Strategic Communication

The Taliban ambushed an Afghan military convoy in the once-peaceful northern province of Sar-i-Pul today, killing more than 20 security personnel and capturing a handful more.

The ambush took place in the Laghman Valley in Sar-i-Pul province, Abdul Jabbar Haqbin, the provincial governor told news agencies in a press conference today. Taliban fighters launched their ambush from the mountains as a combined police and military convoy moved through the area, which is near Sar-i-Pul City, the provincial capital.

The Taliban killed 22 policemen and soldiers and captured eight more. Eight additional security personnel were wounded during heavy fighting. Twelve vehicles were “totally destroyed,” the governor said.

Haqbin also claimed that “23 Taliban rebels including their commander Mullah Nadir have been killed” during the fighting.

The governor is likely referring to Mullah Mohammad Nadir Haqjo bin Merza Raheem, who in 2009 was identified as the Taliban’s shadow governor for Sar-i-Pul. A Mullah Nadir was captured by Afghan forces sometime in 2010.

The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack in Sar-i-Pul on its website, Voice of Jihad.

“The prolonged clash resulted in the death of 40 hireling gunmen [Afghan soldiers and police] with 13 others wounded and 6 captured alive by Mujahideen as well as 6 enemy vehicles wrecked,” the Taliban said.

The Taliban reported that only one of its fighters was “rewarded with martyrdom” while two others were wounded during the fighting. The jihadist group did not report the death of Mullah Nadir or any other senior Taliban leader.

The Taliban also claimed it seized “8 enemy pickup trucks, 4 APCs [armored personnel carriers], 2 logistics trucks and a Crane truck … along with 15 PKM machine guns, 3 Dshck [DShK] heavy machine guns, 3 RPG launcher, a sniper [rifle], 3 mortar launchers, 8 rifles and other equipment.”

Sar-i-Pul province is a known stronghold for the Taliban and the allied Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, which is closely linked to both the Taliban and al Qaeda. As US forces began to “surge” in the Afghan south in 2010, the Taliban began to expand their operations in Sar-i-Pul and other northern provinces. By late 2010, between 500 to 600 Taliban and foreign fighters, including “some Arab, Uzbek and Pakistani militants,” were reported to be operating in the province, particularly in the district of Kohestanat.

In early 2011, the International Security Assistance Force noted the location of Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan-linked suicide camps in both Sar-i-Pul and in the neighboring province of Samangan when it announced that a raid targeted “a key power player” in the Afghan north.

“He is assessed to have ties to foreign fighter facilitation and suicide training camps operating in Sar-i-Pul province,” and personally commands an estimated 60 Taliban fighters. ISAF uses the term “foreign fighters” to describe al Qaeda operatives and members of affiliated terror groups operating in Afghanistan.

The IMU-linked commander was not captured, and both the IMU and the Taliban continue to maintain a presence in Sar-i-Pul and elsewhere in the Afghan north.