Taliban Overrun East Afghan Outpost

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by Bill Roggio

Long War Journal

September 22, 2015

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As the Taliban mounts offensives in the northern province of Kunduz and the southern province of Helmand, it has also been consolidating its grip on areas in eastern Afghanistan. A video from Paktika province, a bastion of the Haqqani Network, shows the Taliban in control of a military outpost along the Pakistani border.

The Taliban released a video entitled “Liberation of Ghwasta”  that shows scores of its fighters attacking and then walking inside a US-built outpost in the Waza Khwa district in Paktika. The footage was released on Voice of Jihad, the jihadist group’s official propaganda website, on Sept. 21. The exact date of the attack was not given, but the accompanying statement said that it occurred “a few weeks earlier.”

According to the Taliban, the Ghwasta area of the district “was cleared from the hireling troops after dozens were killed and wounded, many vehicles destroyed and a sizable amount of arms and ammunition seized.”

The video does show the jihadists in possession of captured vehicles, including a US-made Humvee, and a large quantity of weapons, rockets, mortars, ammunition, and other supplies. The Taliban does not show the bodies of Afghan soldiers or policemen who were purportedly killed in the battle.

Also included in the footage is an interview with Mawlawi Muhammad Iqbal, AKA Takal, the “deputy provincial governor,” or deputy shadow governor, for Paktika. Iqbal is on the scene with the Taliban in Waza Khwa district.

The Taliban’s shadow governor for the province is Bilal Fateh, who swore allegiance to Mullah Mohammad Mansour, the new emir, in early August. The Taliban previously identified the deputy shadow governor of Paktika as “Abdullah” and “Hamad.” In a December 2013 interview, Abdullah claimed that the districts of Dila, Nika, and “Charbaran,” which may be a reference to Gomal district (the Charbaran Valley is in Gomal), are under the jihadist group’s control.

The exact security status of Paktika is unclear. The Afghan government has claimed that the Taliban only controls four of the more than 400 districts in the entire country, but the Taliban are known to control far more than that number. In Paktika, the districts of Bermal, Dila, Nika, Urgun, Yahya Khel, Waza Khwa, Yusuf Khel, and Ziruk are thought to be heavily contested or under Taliban control. The Afghan government often only maintains its writ in the district centers but not in the rural areas of the country.

The Waza Khwa district borders Pakistan’s Baluchistan province, where the Afghan Taliban wields considerable influence. The cities of Zhob and Qila Saifullah, where the jihadist group runs madrassas, recruiting centers, training camps, and command centers, are within 50 miles of the district.

Paktika province is also a stronghold of the Haqqani Network, a powerful subgroup that wields considerable influence within the Taliban. Jalaluddin Haqqani, the group’s founder, is a member of the Taliban’s Quetta Shura, while Sirajuddin Haqqani is one of Mansour’s two deputy emirs.

The Haqqanis maintain close ties with al Qaeda and shelter the global jihadist group’s top leaders in Paktika to this day. At the end of July 2015, the US killed Abu Khalil al Sudani, a senior al Qaeda leader who took direction from Ayman al Zawahiri, in an airstrike in Paktika’s Bermal district. Sudani had a hand in al Qaeda’s external operations network, which plots attacks against the US and the West. On Sept. 14, Afghan intelligence said that it killed an al Qaeda commander known as as Khuram in the Gomal district.

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http://www.longwarjournal.org/archives/2015/09/taliban-overruns-outpost-in-eastern-afghanistan.php

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Afghan Villagers Hang Taliban Militants

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NBC news

Ghazni, Afghanistan

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Afghan villagers hanged four captured Taliban militants from a tree on Saturday as security forces battled the insurgents for a sixth day in a district of Ghazni province, an official said. The hangings were carried out after Taliban fighters had killed more than 100 people in the area in the past week, including more than a dozen who were beheaded, according to Ghazni deputy governor Mohammad Ali Ahmadi.

The battle in the Ajrestan district of Ghazni, southwest of the capital Kabul, is part of an escalation of Taliban attacks around the country as the militants take advantage of dwindling U.S. air support as foreign forces leave. The assault by an estimated 700 Taliban fighters began about six days ago but Afghan army commando reinforcements and the threat of NATO air strikes have so far prevented the district from falling under Taliban control, said Ahmadi. Heavy fighting continued on Saturday in Ajrestan, in the far west of the province.

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http://www.nbcnews.com/news/world/afghan-villagers-hang-taliban-fighters-amid-raging-battle-n213031

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‘Friendly Fire’ Gets Wrong Fellers

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by Azam Ahmed

New York Times

June 10, 2014

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KABUL, Afghanistan — Five American Special Operations service members and at least one Afghan soldier were killed when a United States Air Force B-1 bomber unleashed an airstrike on their position in southern Afghanistan, in one of the deadliest instances of friendly fire in more than a decade of war, Afghan and American officials said Tuesday.

Investigators were looking into possible causes, including faulty coordinates, an errant bomb or other human errors.

The Pentagon press secretary, Rear Adm. John F. Kirby, said in a statement that five American soldiers had been killed “during a security operation in southern Afghanistan.” He added: “Investigators are looking into the likelihood that friendly fire was the cause. Our thoughts and prayers are with the families of these fallen.”

While the military had not identified the dead, relatives identified one as Aaron Toppen, 19, of Mokena, Ill., telling The Chicago Sun-Times he was deployed early this year, a month after his father died.

The deaths happened Monday night in the restive Arghandab district of Zabul Province, where troops were conducting security operations connected to the presidential runoff election on Saturday, said Ghulam Sakhi Roghliwanai, the province’s police chief.

As the mission drew to a close, Taliban militants ambushed the troops, Mr. Roghliwanai said. The troops called for air support, but were killed when the airstrike hit them.

Hajji Qudratullah Khan, a resident of the village of Giza, near where the airstrike hit, said the area is a Taliban stronghold, in a valley surrounded by mountains covered in bushes. He said the military had not been based in the area for some time, allowing the Taliban there to operate with impunity.

“Security is not good in the district,” he said. “We have only one school in the district center, it is for boys, and the rest of the area is controlled by Taliban.”

“I don’t think people will come out for election, because only the district center is secure,” he added.

Airstrikes have long been a point of contention between the Afghan government and the coalition forces, most often when they have caused civilian casualties.

Airstrikes that kill coalition soldiers have been less common. Since the war began, there have been more than a dozen cases in which airstrikes mistakenly killed allies, or gunfights erupted among coalition troops unaware they were firing on one another. Among the most highly publicized was the fatal shooting of the former National Football League player Pat Tillman, who was serving in an Army Ranger unit when he was killed by coalition fire in April 2004.

More recently, Afghan security forces have been the victims in such cases, including an airstrike in March that killed five Afghan soldiers in eastern Logar Province. That is in large part because there are fewer coalition soldiers fighting on the ground in Afghanistan other than Special Operations forces…

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Afghanistan Provinces

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The Taliban also released a statement about the airstrike, confirming their role in the ambush and claiming that their troops also ambushed a joint patrol in the Mizan district of Zabul.

As in the first round of the presidential election in April, Afghan forces have stepped up security operations ahead of the runoff vote on Saturday. Zabul Province is an especially challenging place to hold an election, with an unforgiving landscape and a heavy insurgent presence. In Arghandab district, just 183 ballots were cast in the first round of voting, the second-smallest number of ballots of any district in the province, according to the National Democratic Institute, an American-financed pro-democracy organization.

With the exception of a recent attack in Kabul on the convoy of the presidential front-runner, Abdullah Abdullah, the insurgents seem to be focusing their efforts to disrupt elections on more rural areas, where security is lighter or absent.

“They know that our security forces are now very capable of controlling the security situation in the cities, so they are targeting areas where it is difficult for the security forces to reach and defeat them right away,” said Hajji Abdullah Barakzai, a member of the Afghan Parliament for Zabul Province.

Perhaps the most devastating example took place last month in a mountainous area of northern Badakhshan Province, where the Taliban overran the district center, capturing 27 police officers and holding the government compound for nearly three days.

In the Charchino District of Oruzgan Province, Afghan officials said the Taliban marshaled hundreds of fighters to mount a coordinated assault on as many as 20 police checkpoints two days ago. After a long firefight, the Afghan forces were reported to have lost five men, while the Taliban lost nearly two dozen, said Dust Mohammad Nayaab, a spokesman for the provincial governor.

In another audacious militant attack in southern Afghanistan, gunmen on Tuesday abducted a busload of 35 teachers and students from Kandahar University who were traveling to visit their families during a school holiday week. The bus was stopped in Ghazni Province, where officials are scrambling to secure the release of the captives.

“We have not yet been contacted by any group who claims the arrests or kidnapping of the teachers,” said Hazrat Mir Totakhail, the chancellor of Kandahar University. “However, whoever is involved, we are asking them to free them, because the teachers are not involved in politics and are not supporting any political group.”

The Taliban also appeared confused about the abduction, with the group’s spokesman saying he did not know about the detentions. “If our mujahedeen did it, we will investigate who they are and what they are doing,” said the Taliban spokesman, Zabiullah Mujahid. “If they prove to be university students and teachers, then we have no problem with them.”

He added: “Afghanistan is full of teachers and students. It is not a crime.”

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