Tag Archive: Taliban of Central Asia


August 13, 2018

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — Four days of ferocious fighting between Afghan forces and the Taliban over a key provincial capital has claimed the lives of about 100 Afghan policemen and soldiers and at least 20 civilians, the defense minister said Monday.

The staggering numbers provided by Gen. Tareq Shah Bahrami were the first official casualty toll since the Taliban launched a massive assault on Ghazni, the capital of Ghazni province, last Friday. The multi-pronged assault overwhelmed the city’s defenses and allowed insurgents to capture several parts of it. It was a major show of force by the Taliban, who infiltrated deep into this strategic city barely 120 kilometers (75 miles) from the capital, Kabul.

The United States has sent military advisers to aid Afghan forces. The fall of Ghazni, a city of 270,000 people, would mark an important victory for the Taliban. It would also cut off a key highway linking Kabul to the southern provinces, the Taliban’s traditional heartland.

Bahrami, the defense minister, spoke to reporters at a press conference in Kabul on Monday. He said the casualty figures are not yet definite and that the numbers might change. He didn’t offer a breakdown of the casualties but Interior Minister Wais Ahmad Barmak said nearly 70 policemen were among those killed.

Bahrami said about 1,000 additional troops have been sent to Ghazni and helped prevent the city from falling into Taliban hands. He also said 194 insurgents, including 12 leaders, were killed — with Pakistani, Chechen and Arabs foreign fighters among the dead.

The attack on Ghazni began on Friday, with insurgents infiltrating people’s homes and slipping out into the night to attack Afghan forces. The Taliban also destroyed a telecommunications tower on the city’s outskirts, cutting off all landline and cell phone links to the city and making it difficult to confirm details of the fighting.

Afghan authorities have insisted that the city would not fall to the Taliban and that Afghan forces remained in control of key government positions and other institutions there. Najib Danish, the Interior Ministry’s spokesman, said earlier on Monday that reinforcements have been sent to Ghazni to clear the remaining Taliban.

Col. Fared Mashal, the province’s police chief, said the majority of the insurgents fighting in Ghazni are foreigners, including Pakistanis and Chechens. “The Taliban have failed in reaching their goal,” Mashal added.

Over the past months, the insurgents have seized several districts across Afghanistan, staging near-daily attacks on Afghan security forces, but have been unable to capture and hold urban areas. The United States and NATO formally concluded their combat mission in Afghanistan at the end of 2014, but have since then repeatedly come to the aid of Afghan forces as they struggle to combat the resurgent Taliban.

The United Nations has expressed its concerns for the civilians caught up in the fighting in Ghazni. Ghazni’s residents “have seen their city turn into a battlefield since Friday morning, with fighting and clashes reportedly still ongoing. We have received initial reports of a number of civilian casualties and of people trying to reach safe areas outside of the city,” said Rik Peeperkorn, acting U.N. humanitarian coordinator for Afghanistan.

Ghazni’s hospitals are running out of medicines and people are unable to safely bring casualties, Peeperkorn’s statement added. Electricity, water supply and food are also running low, the statement said.

“Parties to the conflict need to ensure that access to medical services is not denied and respect for medical facilities and staff is upheld,” Peeperkom said. Meanwhile, the International Federation of Journalists and the Afghan Independent Journalists Association jointly put out a statement condemning the violence in Ghazni and attacks on journalists there.

Media technician Mohammad Dawood was among those killed in Ghazni, the statement said, and also condemned the torching of Ghazni’s radio and television station.

Associated Press reporter Mohammad Anwar Danishyar in Kabul, Afghanistan, contributed to this report.

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August 12, 2018

ISLAMABAD (AP) — In a rare diplomatic foray and the strongest sign yet of increasing Taliban political clout in the region, the head of the insurgents’ political office led a delegation to Uzbekistan to meet senior Foreign Ministry officials there, Uzbek and Taliban officials said.

Taliban political chief Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanikzai represented the insurgents in the four-day talks that ended on Friday and included meetings with Uzbekistan’s Foreign Minister Abdulaziz Kamilov as well as the country’s special representative to Afghanistan Ismatilla Irgashev.

The meetings follow an offer made by Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoyev in March to broker peace in Afghanistan. Suhail Shaheen, spokesman for the Taliban’s political office in Qatar, said in a statement to The Associated Press on Saturday that discussions covered everything from withdrawal of international troops from Afghanistan to peace prospects and possible Uzbek-funded development projects that could include railway lines and electricity.

Shaheen said Uzbek officials discussed their security concerns surrounding the development projects. “The Taliban also exchanged views with the Uzbek officials about the withdrawal of the foreign troops and reconciliation in Afghanistan,” he said in the statement.

Uzbek’s Foreign Affairs Ministry website offered a terse announcement on the visit, saying “the sides exchanged views on prospects of the peace process in Afghanistan. ” Still, the meetings are significant, coming as the Taliban are ramping up pressure on Afghan security forces with relentless and deadly attacks. Washington has held preliminary talks with the insurgents in an attempt to find a negotiated end to Afghanistan’s protracted war.

The Taliban have gained increasing attention from Russia as well as Uzbekistan, which view the insurgency as a bulwark against the spread of the Islamic State group in Afghanistan. The United States has accused Moscow of giving weapons to the Taliban.

Still, Andrew Wilder, vice president of Asia programs at the U.S. Institute of Peace said Washington would welcome a “constructive” Russian role in finding a way toward a peace pact in Afghanistan. “What wouldn’t be helpful would be if the Uzbek efforts to facilitate lines of communication with the Taliban are not closely coordinated with the Afghan government,” he said.

“High profile talks by foreign governments with the Taliban that exclude the Afghan government risk providing too much legitimacy to the Taliban without getting much in return,” Wilder said. On Sunday, Ehsanullah Taheri, the spokesman of Afghanistan’s High Peace Council, a wide-encompassing body tasked with finding a path to peace with the government’s armed opponents, said Uzbek officials had the Afghan government’s approval for the meeting.

“Afghan government welcomes any effort regarding the Afghan peace process, especially those attempts which can lead us to an Afghan-owned and Afghan-led peace process,” said Taheri. Still, there was no indication from either side that progress toward substantive talks between the Taliban and the government was made.

For Uzbekistan, the IS presence is particularly worrisome as hundreds of its fighters are former members of the radical Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, a declared terrorist group considered the architect of some of the more horrific attacks carried out by IS in Afghanistan.

Last year, there were reports that the son of Tahir Yuldashev, the powerful Uzbek leader of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, who was killed in a U.S. missile strike in Pakistan in 2009, was leading efforts to help expand IS influence in Afghanistan.

Last week, Afghan security forces reportedly rescued scores of Afghan Uzbeks who had declared their allegiance to IS when they came under attack by Taliban fighters in northern Afghanistan, not far from the border with Uzbekistan. The rescued Uzbek warriors subsequently declared they would join the peace process.

Most of those rescued were Afghan Uzbeks loyal to Afghanistan’s Vice President Rashid Dostum who wet over and joined IS after Dostum fell out with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and fled to Turkey in May last year to live in self-imposed exile there.

Coincidentally, the rescue of Afghan Uzbeks from the battle with the Taliban came just days after Dostum returned to Afghanistan and reconciled with Ghani’s government.

Associated Press Writer Rahim Faiez in Kabul, Afghanistan contributed to this report.

June 09, 2018

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — The Afghan Taliban announced a three-day cease-fire over the Eid al-Fitr holiday at the end of the holy month of Ramadan, a first for the group, following an earlier cease-fire announcement by the government.

A statement released Saturday by the Taliban said that they would defend themselves in case of any attack. They say foreign forces are excluded from the cease-fire and Taliban operations would continue against them.

The statement added that the leadership of the Taliban may also consider releasing prisoners of war, if they promise not to return to the battlefield. Mohammad Haroon Chakhansuri, spokesman for the Afghan president, welcomed the cease-fire announcement during a news conference in Kabul.

“We hope that (the Taliban) will be committed to implementing their announcement of the cease-fire,” he said. “The Afghan government will take all steps needed to make sure that there is no bloodshed in Afghanistan.”

“The government of Afghanistan is hopeful that this process will become a long term process and will result in a sustainable peace,” Chakhansuri added. Afghan President Ashraf Ghani on Thursday announced a weeklong cease-fire with the Taliban to coincide with the holiday.

A statement sent from the president’s office on Thursday said the government’s cease-fire will begin on 27 Ramadan, or June 12 on the Western calendar, and last through the Eid al-Fitr holiday, until around June 19, adding the cease-fire does not include al-Qaida or the Islamic State group.

The palace statement referred to a gathering of Afghanistan’s top clerics last week in which they issued a decree against suicide attacks and called for peace talks. A suicide bomber struck just outside the gathering as it was dispersing, killing at least seven people and wounding 20 in an attack claimed by the Islamic State group.

The Taliban had denounced the gathering, insisting that its jihad, or holy war, against foreign invaders was justified. It instead urged the clerics to side with it against the “occupation.” NATO has led international security efforts in Afghanistan since 2003. It wound down its combat mission in 2014 but its Resolute Support mission comprises almost 16,000 troops from around 40 countries.

The conflict has been at a stalemate for several years, and NATO’s best chances of leaving lie in the Taliban agreeing to peace talks and eventually joining the government. The Trump administration has sent additional troops to try to change the course of America’s longest war.

On Friday, senior U.S. officials said they will intensify combat against the Islamic State affiliate in the country during the Kabul government’s temporary halt to attacks on the Taliban. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said this could, for example, allow the U.S. to partially shift the focus of aerial surveillance from the Taliban to IS fighters as well as al-Qaida extremists, who remain a threat 17 years after the U.S. invaded. Mattis spoke to reporters during a break in a NATO defense ministers meeting.

In the meantime, Taliban insurgents have continued to carry out attacks. Just hours before the Taliban’s announcement, at least 17 soldiers were killed when their checkpoint came under attack by Taliban fighters in western Herat province, said Gelani Farhad, spokesman for the provincial governor.

Farhad said one soldier was wounded. He added that eight insurgents were killed and more than a dozen others were wounded in the gun battle in Zewal district. In northern Kunduz province, at least 13 local policemen were killed early Saturday when their checkpoint came under an attack by Taliban fighters, said Nematullah Temori, spokesman for the provincial governor.

Temori said seven others were wounded in Qala-e Zal district. Around 10 insurgents were also killed and nine others wounded during the battle, he said. In eastern Nangarhar province, a possible candidate for a district council seat was killed when his vehicle was destroyed by a sticky bomb Saturday, said Mohammad Nasim, Rodat district governor.

The Islamic State group claimed responsibility for the attack in a statement posted on its news agency Aamaq website. Nasim said that Ghulam Mohiadin was a district level official for the education department and planned to run for the district council later this year.

Both the Taliban and Islamic state group are active in eastern Afghanistan, especially in Nangarhar. In northern Sari Pul, at least six public protection forces were killed after a checkpoint came under an attack by Taliban fighters, said Zabi Amani, spokesman for the provincial governor.

Amani said that seven other forces were wounded in the attack late Frday night near Sari Pul city. “Insurgents have set fire to two military Humvees as well as the checkpoint,” he said. He said there was a report of a single Taliban casualty but the group has not commented.

June 23, 2017

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — The leader of the Afghan Taliban said on Friday that a planned U.S. troop surge will not end the protracted war in the country and vowed to fight on until a full withdrawal of NATO troops from Afghanistan.

The remarks by Maulvi Haibatullah Akhunzadah came in a message ahead of the Muslim holiday of Eid al Fitr, which marks the end of the holy month of Ramadan — something the Taliban do every year to rally followers.

It also followed a horrific suicide car bombing claimed by the Taliban in Afghanistan’s Helmand province that targeted Afghan troops and government workers waiting to collect their pay ahead of the holiday.

By Friday, the death toll from that attack rose to 34 people, most of them civilians, provincial government spokesman Omar Zwak told The Associated Press. In the Taliban message this year, the militant leader seemed to harden his stance, saying the Afghan government is too corrupt to stay on and warning of another civil war in Kabul — along the lines of the 1992 fighting when mujahedeen groups threw out the Communist government in Afghanistan and turned their guns on each other. That conflict killed more than 50,000 civilians and gave rise to the Taliban.

The Taliban say they are waging war against the Kabul government and not targeting civilians. In their claim of the Helmand attack, they insisted no civilians died. Zwak, however said, most of the dead in the attack in the provincial capital, Lashkar Gah, were civilians, although there were soldiers inside the bank at the time of the explosion. Witnesses said children were among the dozens wounded.

Earlier, the Defense Ministry had urged soldiers to collect their salaries from banks located inside army bases. If they do go to banks elsewhere, they should refrain from wearing their uniforms, the ministry’s deputy spokesman Mohammad Radmanish told the AP.

Outside a hospital in Lashkar Gah, Esmatullah Khan, 34, said Friday he had donated blood to help some of the nearly 70 wounded in the attack. Akhunzadah, the Taliban leader, also boasted of allegedly growing international support, saying “mainstream entities of the world admit (the Taliban) effectiveness, legitimacy and success,” an apparent reference to reports of overtures by Russia and China to the Taliban amid concerns of an emerging Islamic State affiliate in Afghanistan.

While the IS affiliate’s stronghold is in eastern Afghanistan’s Nangarhar province, the branch has managed also to stage high-profile attacks in Kabul and other cities. The presence of battle-hardened Uzbek militants in the ranks also further worries Moscow.

After urging Afghans to embrace holy war, or jihad, to oust foreign troops, Akhunzadah’s rambling message went on to touch upon the conflict between Gulf Arab states and Qatar, saying he was “saddened” by the feud.

Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt have accused Qatar of supporting extremists, a charge that Doha denies.

Associated Press Writers Kathy Gannon in Islamabad and Abdul Khaliq in Lashkar Gah, Afghanistan, contributed to this report.

August 30, 2016

ISLAMABAD (AP) — The Taliban have appointed a new military chief as the insurgents try to gain ground rather than talk peace under a new leadership, Taliban officials said in telephone interviews over the weekend.

They said that the appointment of Mullah Ibrahim Sadar, once a close ally of Taliban founder Mullah Mohammed Omar, heralds a commitment to confrontation at a time when multiple governments are trying to coax the Taliban to the negotiating table.

Sadar is a battle-hardened commander, who gained prominence among Taliban foot soldiers following the movement’s overthrow in 2001. The two officials both spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly for the Taliban.

Sadar’s appointment coincides with an uptick in Taliban attacks against Afghan security forces. The United States has sent additional troops to Afghanistan’s southern Helmand province, where its capital, Lashkar Gah, is under pressure. The provincial council head Kareem Atal earlier said roughly 80 percent of Helmand is already under Taliban control.

So far this month, Taliban fighters have attacked Afghan security forces in northern Kunduz province, briefly taking control of a district headquarters. The militants also overran a district in northern Baghlan province and in eastern Paktia province. Meanwhile, in eastern Nangarhar province, Taliban militants are fighting pitched battles with security forces. Afghanistan’s Ministry of Defense says its security forces are waging operations in 15 provinces.

Mohammad Akbari a member of Afghanistan’s High Peace Council, which is tasked with talking peace with insurgent groups, said there has been no progress in talks since Taliban leader Mullah Akhtar Mansour was killed in a U.S. drone strike in May in Pakistan. Mansour was succeeded by Mullah Haibatullah Akhundzada, and the notorious Haqqani network gained a prominent role in the leadership structure.

“I can’t see any green light toward peace by the Taliban for Afghanistan and instead we have seen an increase in their fighting in the provinces,” Akbari told The Associated Press. Since Mansour’s death, Pakistan’s Interior Ministry has launched a stepped-up campaign to verify the identity of roughly 1.5 million Afghans living in Pakistan, many possessing Pakistani identity cards, some legally obtained and others illegally acquired. Mansour was carrying a Pakistani passport and identity card under an alias.

The crackdown has resulted in the withdrawal of thousands of suspicious identity cards. Pakistan’s Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan said that in the last four years, roughly 80,000 suspicious identity cards have been revoked. He didn’t have a figure of the number of cards withdrawn in the latest campaign.

Taliban officials say their fighters, whose families are living in Pakistan, are getting caught up in the crackdown — forcing them to find shelter in Afghanistan. The officials said as a result, in order to accommodate their fighters, they need to expand their territory for practical reasons in addition to their standing military goals.

Pakistan has been bitterly criticized by the Afghan government for not doing more to arrest and expel Taliban fighters from its territory — particularly the Haqqani network, which is blamed by Afghanistan for many of the most brutal attacks. Pakistan, meanwhile, has carried out military operations in its tribal regions that border Afghanistan, and accuses Afghanistan of harboring its own Taliban insurgents who have been carrying out attacks in Pakistan.

Following last week’s militant attack on the American University in Kabul, the Afghan government sent three telephone numbers to Pakistan’s military, believed to belong to those involved in planning the attack, seeking Pakistan’s assistance in tracking down and arresting the culprits. The assault killed 13 people and wounded dozens more.

Associated Press Writers Rahim Faiez and Amir Shah in Kabul, Afghanistan, contributed to this report.

25 May 2016 Wednesday

The Afghan Taliban on Wednesday announced influential religious figure Haibatullah Akhundzada as their new leader after confirming supremo Mullah Akhtar Mansour’s death in a U.S. drone strike.

“Haibatullah Akhundzada has been appointed as the new leader of the Islamic Emirate (Taliban) after a unanimous agreement in the shura (supreme council), and all the members of shura pledged allegiance to him,” the insurgents said in a statement.

It added that Sirajuddin Haqqani, an implacable foe of U.S. forces, and Mullah Yakoub, the son of Taliban founder Mullah Omar, were appointed his deputies.

Haibatullah was one of two deputies under Mansour, who was killed in a U.S. drone strike on Saturday, the first known American assault on a top Afghan Taliban leader on Pakistani soil.

Mansour’s killing is a major blow to the militant movement just nine months after he was formally appointed leader following a bitter power struggle, and sent shockwaves through the leadership.

Haibatullah’s appointment comes after the Taliban’s supreme council held emergency meetings that began Sunday in southwest Pakistan to find a unifying figure for the leadership post.

Taliban sources said the supreme council members were lying low and constantly changing the venue of their meetings to avoid new potential air strikes.

Source: World Bulletin.

Link: http://www.worldbulletin.net/headlines/173077/afghan-taliban-chooses-new-leader.

April 19, 2016

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — Armed militants in Afghanistan staged a coordinated assault on a key government security agency in the capital Tuesday morning, killing at least seven people and wounding more than 320. The Taliban has claimed responsibility.

The attack, including a suicide car bombing, appears to have targeted an agency similar to the U.S. Secret Service, providing personal protection for high-ranking government officials. Ismail Kawasi, spokesman for the Public Health Ministry, said so far seven dead bodies and 327 wounded, including women and children, have been brought to area hospitals. An Interior Ministry statement said that dozens of civilians were killed and wounded in the attack. The casualty figures are expected to rise.

Sediq Sediqqi, spokesman for the Afghan Interior Ministry, said that the suicide bombing was followed by an assault by armed militants. “One armed terrorist was shot and killed by security forces and the gun battle is still underway with an unknown number of other terrorists,” said Sediqqi.

Later a spokesman for the Kabul police chief, Basir Mujahid, said that the gun battle in the compound had ended. “This was one of the most powerful explosions I have ever heard in my life,” said Obaidullah Tarakhail, a police commander who was present when the attack began. Tarakhail said he couldn’t see or hear anything for 20 minutes after the initial explosion. “All around was dark and covered with thick smoke and dust,” he said.

Dozens of civilian apartment buildings, houses, shops and several government buildings were damaged by the car bomb blast. Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid claimed responsibility for the attack. Taliban insurgents have stepped up their attacks recently since announcing the start of their spring offensive last week.

President Ashraf Ghani issued a statement condemning the attack and saying it, “clearly shows the enemy’s defeat in face-to-face battle with Afghan security forces.” The attack in Kabul comes four days of another attack by Taliban insurgents in northern Kunduz province which was repelled by the Afghan security forces.

Officials in Kunduz said that security has improved in the city and that the Taliban were defeated in other parts of the province, but operations were still underway to clear militant fighters from the rest of the province.

The Taliban held Kunduz for three days last year before being driven out by a two-week counteroffensive aided by U.S.-airstrikes. It was their biggest foray into an urban area since 2001.

December 22, 2015

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — A suicide attacker rammed an explosives-laden motorcycle into a joint NATO-Afghan patrol Monday, killing six American troops in the deadliest attack on international forces since August. Two U.S. troops and an Afghan were wounded.

The soldiers were targeted as they moved through a village near Bagram Airfield, the largest U.S. military facility in Afghanistan, NATO and Afghan officials said. The Taliban claimed responsibility. A U.S. official confirmed that six American troops were killed and two wounded. An Afghan was also wounded. The official was not authorized to discuss the incident publicly so spoke on condition of anonymity.

“Our heartfelt sympathies go out to the families and friends of those affected in this tragic incident, especially during this holiday season,” U.S. Army Brig. Gen. William Shoffner, head of public affairs at NATO’s Resolute Support base in the Afghan capital Kabul, said in a statement.

In New York, Police Commissioner William Bratton said Monday that a New York City police detective, Joseph Lemm, was one of the six American killed in the attack. Lemm was a 15-year-old veteran of the New York Police Department and worked in the Bronx Warrant Squad. Bratton says Lemm served in the U.S. National Guard and, while a member of the police force, he had been deployed twice to Afghanistan and once to Iraq. He leaves behind a wife and three children.

In Washington, White House press secretary Josh Earnest said the nation’s thoughts and prayers are with the victims, their families and their loved ones, and that the U.S. will continue to work jointly with Afghans to promote peace and stability in their country.

Secretary of Defense Ash Carter in statement called the attack “a painful reminder of the dangers our troops face every day in Afghanistan.” It was the deadliest attack on foreign troops in four months. On Aug. 22, three American contractors with the RS base were killed in a suicide attack in Kabul. On Aug. 7 and 8, Kabul was the scene of three insurgent attacks within 24 hours that left at least 35 people dead. One of the attacks, on a U.S. special operations forces base outside Kabul, killed one U.S soldier and eight Afghan civilian contractors.

In the year since the international drawdown, the Taliban insurgency has intensified. Although the combat mission ended last year, around 9,800 U.S. troops and almost 4,000 NATO forces remain in Afghanistan. They have a mandate to “train, assist and advise” their Afghan counterparts, who are now effectively fighting a battle-hardened Taliban alone.

Monday’s attack came as Taliban fighters and government forces battled for control of a strategic district in the southern province of Helmand after it was overrun by insurgents, delivering a serious blow to the government’s thinly spread and exhausted forces.

Mohammad Jan Rasulyar, Helmand’s deputy governor, said insurgents took control of Sangin district late Sunday. Rasulyar had taken the unusual step of alerting Afghan President Ashraf Ghani to the dire security situation and requesting urgent reinforcements through an open letter posted on Facebook on Sunday, saying that he had not been able to make contact through other means.

“We had to take to social media to reach you as Helmand is falling into the hands of the enemy and it requires your immediate attention,” Rasulyar wrote in his Facebook post to Ghani. On Monday, Defense Ministry spokesman Dawlat Waziri said Afghan Army commandoes and special forces had arrived in Sangin to push a counter-offensive. He told reporters the Afghan air force had conducted 160 combat and transport flights over Sangin in the past 48 hours.

Helmand is an important Taliban base as it produces most of the world’s opium, a crop that helps fund the insurgency. Sangin district has bounced in and out of Taliban control for some years, and fighting there has produced some of the highest casualty counts among Afghan and international forces in 14 years of war.

British forces saw intensive fighting there at the height of the war in 2006 and 2007. Among the 450 British troops killed during the country’s combat mission in Afghanistan, more than 100 died in Sangin. In 2008, a battalion of U.S. Marines arrived in Helmand, followed a year later by the first wave of President Barack Obama’s “surge” effort against the Taliban, comprising 11,000 Marines who conducted operations across the province.

The head of Helmand’s provincial council, Muhammad Kareem Atal, said about 65 percent of Helmand is now under Taliban control. “In every district either we are stepping back or we are handing territory over to Taliban, but still, until now, no serious action has been taken,” he said, referring to a perceived lack of support from the capital.

Districts across Helmand, including Nad Ali, Kajaki, Musa Qala, Naw Zad, Gereshk and Garmser, have all been threatened by Taliban takeover in recent months. Insurgents are also believed to be dug in on the outskirts of the provincial capital, Lashkar Gah.

Taliban fighters, sometimes working with other insurgent groups like the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, have managed to overrun many districts across the country this year, and also staged a three-day takeover of the major northern city of Kunduz. They rarely hold territory for more than a few hours or days, but the impact on the morale of Afghan forces, and people, is substantial.

Atal said more than 2,000 security forces personnel had been killed fighting in Helmand in 2015. He said a major reason Afghan forces were “losing” was the large number of soldiers and police deserting their posts in the face of the Taliban onslaught.

Fighting in Afghanistan has intensified since the announcement in late July that the founder and leader of the Taliban, Mullah Mohammad Omar, had been dead for more than two years. His deputy, Mullah Akhtar Mansoor, succeeded him, causing internal ructions and delaying the likelihood that a peace dialogue with the Afghan government, halted after the announcement of Mullah Omar’s death, will restart in the foreseeable future.

The expected winter lull in fighting has not yet taken place in the warmer southern provinces. U.S. and Afghan military leaders say they are expecting a hot winter, followed by a tough fight throughout 2016.

The Pentagon released a report last week warning that the security situation in Afghanistan would deteriorate as a “resilient Taliban-led insurgency remains an enduring threat to U.S., coalition, and Afghan forces, as well as to the Afghan people.”

Associated Press writers Mirwais Khan in Kandahar, Afghanistan, and Humayoon Babur and Amir Shah in Kabul and Lolita C. Baldor in Washington contributed to this story.

December 06, 2015

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — Taliban leader Mullah Akhtar Mansoor has released a rare audio recording in which he denies claims by an Afghan official that he was wounded in a shootout during a meeting with other commanders in Pakistan last week.

In a 17-minute audio recording sent to media by the Taliban late Saturday, Mansoor dismissed what he called “baseless claims” that were “part of the agenda of the enemy.” The Taliban had earlier sent The Associated Press a two-minute version of the recording.

The voice resembled that in previous recordings issued by Mansoor, who succeeded longtime Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar after his death was announced last summer. Mansoor has since faced internal challenges to his leadership, including by a breakaway faction that has battled fighters loyal to him.

“I haven’t seen Kuchlak in years,” he said, referring to an area near the Pakistani city of Quetta where the dispute was said to have taken place. He ordered his fighters to pay no heed to “baseless rumors” and to continue waging jihad, or holy war, against the Afghan government.

The audio message was released two days after Sultan Faizy, the spokesman for Afghanistan’s First Vice President Abdul Rasheed Dostum, claimed that Mansoor was wounded in a firefight that broke out at a gathering of Taliban figures in Pakistan. He said the incident took place in the home of Mullah Abdullah Sarhadi, a former Taliban official, and that six Taliban figures, including Sarhadi, were killed.

“I am safe and my colleagues are safe. I am among my colleagues,” Mansoor said, adding that he had not wanted to release the audio recording but was convinced to do so by his aides. The Afghan government’s announcement last summer that Mullah Omar had died nearly two years earlier in Pakistan derailed nascent peace talks between Kabul and the Taliban that had been brokered by Islamabad.

In the recording, Mansoor insisted the Taliban would continue fighting until they established “Islamic government” in Afghanistan and would resist outside pressure to reach a political settlement. The Taliban ruled Afghanistan according to a harsh interpretation of Islamic law until the group was toppled by a U.S.-led invasion following the Sept. 11 attacks.

Mansoor established the timing of the recording by referring to a battle between Afghan forces and the Taliban in Wardak province on Friday which killed a number of civilians. He expressed condolences to those killed and wished a swift recovery for civilians who were wounded.

September 29, 2015

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — The Taliban captured the strategic northern Afghan city of Kunduz on Monday in a multi-pronged attack involving hundreds of fighters, the first time the insurgents have seized a major urban area since the 2001 U.S.-led invasion.

The fast-moving assault took military and intelligence agencies by surprise as the insurgents descended on the city, one of Afghanistan’s richest and the target of repeated Taliban offensives as the militants spread their fight across the country following the withdrawal last year of U.S. and NATO combat troops.

Within 12 hours of launching the offensive around 3 a.m., the militants had reached the main square, tearing down photographs of President Ashraf Ghani and other leaders and raising the white flag of the Taliban movement, residents reported.

More than 600 prisoners, including 140 Taliban fighters, were released from the city’s jail, and many people were trying to reach the airport to flee the city. “Kunduz city has collapsed into the hands of the Taliban,” Interior Ministry spokesman Sediq Sediqqi told the Associated Press. “Security forces in Kunduz were prepared for an attack, but not one of this size, and not one that was coordinated in 10 different locations at the same time.”

The Taliban used social media to claim the “conquest” of Kunduz and reassure residents that the extremist group — responsible for the vast majority of nearly 5,000 civilian casualties in the first half of this year, according to the United Nations — came in peace.

A statement attributed to the group’s new leader, Mullah Akhtar Mansoor, the self-styled Islamic emir of Afghanistan, said: “The citizens of Kunduz should not worry about safeguarding their lives and properties. Carry out your ordinary livelihoods in absolute security. All traders, workers, staff of hospitals, municipality and governing bodies should continue their daily routines without any fear or intimidation.”

The Taliban have a history of brutality toward those they regard as apostates, and have banned girls from school as well as music, movies and other trappings of modern life in areas under their control.

The fall of Kunduz marks a major setback for government forces, who have struggled to combat the Taliban since the U.S. and NATO shifted to a supporting role at the end of last year. The city is a strategic prize for the Taliban and its capture, however short-lived, is sure to be used as a propaganda victory. This year’s fight has severely tested Afghan forces, who lack air power and must rely on the United States for selective airstrikes, and suffer huge casualties and low morale. Nevertheless, they have largely held their ground in the face of a Taliban strategy clearly aimed at forcing them to spread resources ever-thinly across the country.

Sediqqi said military reinforcements were being sent to Kunduz, where government forces managed to fend off a major Taliban assault in April, the start of the insurgents’ annual summer offensive. “We are trying our best to clear the city as soon as possible,” he said.

Kunduz has been regularly targeted by the Taliban, who have allied with other insurgents, including the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan and militants driven into Afghanistan from neighboring Pakistan by an assault on their hideouts near the porous border.

Gen. Murad Ali Murad, the deputy chief of army staff, said Monday’s attack involved a large number of Taliban drawn from across the north and included foreign fighters, likely Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan members with an eye on the Central Asian states to Afghanistan’s north.

“Strategic areas, including the airport, are controlled by Afghan security forces,” he said. “Reinforcements have already arrived and attacks on the insurgent positions will be launched soon,” he added, without elaborating.

Sediqqi said the target of the Taliban assault was the city’s main prison and police headquarters. Earlier, deputy presidential spokesman, Zafar Hashemi, had called the situation “fluid,” saying Ghani was “in constant contact with the security and defense leadership to provide them with guidance.”

“Our first priority is the safety and security of residents,” he said. Analyst Faheem Dashty said Afghan security and intelligence agencies had been “caught by surprise” in what appeared to be a “big failure” of security and intelligence.

“They were expecting a big attack but couldn’t defend the city,” he said. Authorities were similarly blind-sided by the April attack and subsequent massing of fighters across the northern provinces, raising questions about the adequacy of the government’s security and defense agencies.

A senior U.S. defense official, speaking on condition of anonymity in order to discuss an ongoing military operation, said the U.S. military was aware the Taliban had taken control of a hospital and a number of government buildings in the city, and that both sides — the Taliban and government forces — had sustained a significant number of casualties.

Early indications were that the Afghan forces were in position to push back the attackers and regain control of the city, although the outcome was still in doubt, said the official, speaking earlier Monday before the government announced the fall of the city.

The Kunduz assault highlights the resilience of the Taliban following the revelation earlier this year that their reclusive longtime leader, Mullah Mohammad Omar, died two years ago. A bitter internal dispute over the appointment of Mansoor has yet to be fully resolved, but seems to have had little impact on the battlefield.

Associated Press National Security Writer Robert Burns in Washington contributed to this report.