July 15, 2021 | FDD's Long War Journal

Nearly half of Afghanistan’s provincial capitals under threat from Taliban

July 15, 2021 | FDD's Long War Journal

Nearly half of Afghanistan’s provincial capitals under threat from Taliban

With rapid gains in recent days, the Taliban now threatens 16 of Afghanistan’s 34 provincial capitals, while 18 of the provinces in their entirety are under direct threat of falling under Taliban control, according to an ongoing assessment by FDD’s Long War Journal.

Since the Taliban began its offensive after President Joe Biden announced the withdrawal of U.S forces on April 14, the Taliban has more than tripled the number of districts controlled by the group, from 73 to 221. Many of the districts lost to the Taliban are in the north and west, however the Taliban has continued to gain territory in the south and east. The Taliban offensive in the north is designed to undercut Afghan power brokers and warlords in their home districts and provinces.

The map, above, shows an Afghanistan that is at risk of complete collapse if the government and military do not get a handle on the security situation, and quickly. A written assessment of select provinces is listed below. The methodology of the assessment follows.

For information on districts controlled and contested by the Taliban, and time lapse maps of the Taliban’s offensive since 2017 and its gains since April 14, 2021, see LWJ report, Mapping Taliban Controlled and Contested districts in Afghanistan.

Methodology

The primary data and research behind this assessment are based on open-source information, such as press reports and statements provided by government agencies and the Taliban. The status of a province is assessed by both the internal situation within the borders of the province as well as the surrounding environment. During the Taliban campaign beginning on May 1, offensives have been launched across provincial lines, indicating that while a province might be relatively free of Taliban influence, it is at risk from Taliban controlled districts on its borders. As a result, this assessment incorporates LWJ’s analysis of district control within each province and the degree of Taliban control within neighboring provinces in order to determine the status of threat posed to each of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces.

A province designated with a Low Taliban Threat has both a minimal presence of Taliban forces within its districts and low risk of offensives from across its borders. These are provinces which government and militia forces could realistically exert more control over and fully drive out the Taliban with a concentrated effort.

A province designated with a Moderate Taliban Threat may have a sizable Taliban presence within its districts or have a minimal presence of Taliban forces in its districts but be surrounded by provinces under high threat. These provinces are not in immediate danger of being completely overrun by Taliban forces, but must be monitored closely as the situation evolves.

A province designated with a High Taliban Threat has lost many districts to Taliban control and may be surrounded by other Taliban dominated provinces. LWJ may assess a province as under high Taliban threat if government has not demonstrated an ability to consistently retake districts or hold cities or bases within the province. Many of these provinces are experiencing fighting around their provincial capitals, indicating their stability is in jeopardy.

Badakhshan – High Taliban Threat: Prior to 9/11, Badakhshan was one of two that were completely under control of the Northern Alliance, and it served as the group’s headquarters. The Taliban currently controls 25 of the province’s 28 districts, and its capital, Faizabad, is under direct Taliban threat. The remaining 3 districts are contested. Afghan security forces and government officials abandoned numerous districts as the Taliban advanced. Afghan National Army Commandos have been called in to defend the capital.

Badghis – High Taliban Threat: The Taliban currently controls five of the province’s six districts, and its capital, Qala-i-Naw, is under assault. The Taliban and Afghan government have reportedly agreed to a ceasefire.

Ghazni – High Taliban Threat: The Taliban currently controls 14 of the province’s 18 districts, and its capital, Ghazni City, is under assault. The remaining four districts are contested. Taliban fighters are inside the city and battling for control with Afghan forces. Several neighborhoods are under Taliban control. The Taliban overran the city in 2018 and held it for days before being ejected by U.S. and Afghan forces.

Ghor – Moderate Taliban Threat: The Taliban currently controls seven of the province’s 10 districts, and its capital, Chaghcharan, is under direct government control. The government controls two districts and the remaining district is contested. The Taliban has made significant gains in Ghor over the past month.

Herat – High Taliban Threat: The Taliban currently controls 13 of the province’s 16 districts, while three districts are under direct government control. Warlord Ismail Khan has called up the militias to defend Herat City, the provincial capital, while the Afghan military has sent Commandos to defend the city. The Taliban marched to the gate of Herat City but then halted.

Jawzjan – High Taliban Threat: The Taliban currently controls seven of the province’s nine districts. The government controls the remaining two districts, including the provincial capital of Shebergan. The security situation in neighboring provinces is dire.

Kandahar – High Taliban Threat: The Taliban currently controls 13 of the province’s 16 districts, and its capital, Kandahar, is under assault. The remaining four districts are contested. Taliban fighters are inside the city and battling for control with Afghan forces. Several neighborhoods are under Taliban control. On July 15, the Taliban took control of the Spin Boldak border crossing and defeated Tadin Khan, one of the province’s most powerful warlords.

Khost – Moderate Taliban Threat: The Taliban currently controls three of the province’s 12 districts and five districts are contested. There is no direct threat of the Taliban taking the capital in the short term, although the situation can change quickly. Additionally, the Khost protection force – a CIA-backed quasi-militia – has proven to be an effective fighting force. While the Taliban’s overt presence in Khost is relatively low, the province is a stronghold of the Taliban’s powerful Haqqani Network, and the Haqqani’s influence is exerted in a subversive manner. Thus, the threat is assessed as moderate.

Kunduz – High Taliban Threat: The Taliban currently controls four of the province’s seven districts, and its capital, Kunduz, is under assault. The remaining three districts are contested, and frquently switch hands between the Taliban and the government. The province is highly volatile. The Taliban took control of Kunduz city and held it for short periods of time twice since 2015.

Laghman – High Taliban Threat: The Taliban currently controls two of the province’s six districts, and its capital, Mihtarlam, is under direct Taliban threat. The government controls one district and the remaining three are contested. The Taliban fought Afghan forces inside the city in June. The security situation in the districts in neighboring provinces is precarious, and thus the threat is assessed as high.

Panjshir – Low Taliban Threat: Home of Ahmad Shah Massaud, the legendary anti-Taliban leader who was assassinated by Al Qaeda two day prior to the Sept. 11, 2001 attack on the U.S., the Afghan government controls all seven of Panjshir’s districts. However, given the fact that the security situation in Badakhshan, Takhar, Laghman, and other neighboring provinces is poor to dire, Panjshir is at risk of being cut off by the Taliban. The fact that Panjshir must be assessed as having a low threat rating is an indicator of just how poor the security situation in Afghanistan has become.

Takhar – High Taliban Threat: The Taliban currently controls 14 of the province’s 17 districts and the three remaining districts are contested. The Taliban launched an assault on the provincial capital of Taloqan in mid-July 2021.

Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of The Long War Journal. Follow Bill on Twitter @billroggio. FDD is a nonpartisan think tank focused on foreign policy and national security issues.

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