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Taliban overruns district, loses control of 2 others in Afghan north

The Taliban took control of a district that borders Tajikistan and lost two others as security forces and the jihadist group fight a seesaw battle for control of the Afghan north.

Today, the Taliban overran the district center of Darqad in Takhar province, according to Afghan press reports and the jihadist group's official propaganda arm. Darqad is a remote district that directly borders Tajikistan. Takhar was one of several northern Afghan provinces hit by a massive earthquake that has killed hundreds in both Afghanistan and Pakistan. It is unclear if Darqad was directly affected by the quake.

In a statement released on Voice of Jihad, the Taliban claimed it killed "12 hireling troops" while overrunning the "district administration center, police HQ and all surrounding defense check posts at around 01:00 am local time today." Additionally, the Taliban claimed it took control of "4 enemy pickup trucks, an APC, 24 rifles, a mortar tube, a large ammunition depot and a sizable amount of other equipment" during the assault.

The Taliban's claim that it overran the district was supported by the Afghan press. A spokesman for Takhar province confirmed that the jihadist group drove out Afghan forces, and said that four policemen were killed in the fighting. "Taliban fighters suffered heavy casualties" during the fighting, and Afghan forces have launched a counterattack, according to the Afghanistan Times.

As the Taliban seized Darqad, it lost control of Dasht-i-Archi district in Kunduz and Ghormach in Faryab, according to Afghan officials. Dasht-i-Archi, which also borders Tajikistan as well as the provincial capital of Kunduz, has been a key base for the Taliban. According to TOLONews, the jihadist group "held the district for two years."

"I can assure the residents of Kunduz and all people of Afghanistan that we have destroyed the main base of the insurgents in the district as we promised and all the insurgents have been eliminated," General Murad Ali Murad, the deputy chief of army staff, told TOLONews.

In addition to losing Dasht-i-Archi, the Taliban also is said to have abandoned the Ghormach district center in Faryab on Oct. 24 after First Vice President Abdul Rashid Dostum, the notorious Uzbek warlord, mustered his militias and Afghan forces and launched a counterattack. Ghormach, which borders Turkmenistan, fell to the Taliban on Oct. 18. The jihadist group executed the district police chief and 12 policemen after seizing the district center, RFE/RL reported.

Dostum attacked the Taliban in Ghormach after assaulting Taliban-controlled villages in the neighboring province of Jawzjan. The jihadist group lashed out at Dostum, claiming his forces "resorted to a series of destructions [sic], mass murder and vandalism in the region."

While the Taliban has not commented on the loss of Dasht-i-Archi and Ghormach, it did claim to have destroyed two armored personnel carriers and killed and wounded 26 Afghan troops in Dasht-i-Archi.

The Taliban has pressed its offensive in the Afghan north, a region where the government traditionally has had a better grip on security. At the end of September, the jihadist group overran Kunduz city, which was contested for two weeks before Afghan forces finally regained control. Several districts in Kunduz, Baghlan, Takhar, and Badakshan have fallen under Taliban control or have become heavily contested over the past month.

As the Taliban has strained Afghan security forces in the north, it has also maintained offensives in the south. The Taliban control or contest several districts near Lashkar Gah, the capital of Helmand province, and have advanced to within five miles of the city. Additionally, the jihadist group has threatened Ghazni city, the provincial capital of Ghazni.

The Taliban now controls 35 districts and contests another 38, according to data compiled by The Long War Journal. The group has made a push to gain territory over the past month, seizing 14 districts in the north, west, and south.

[Source: By Bill Roggio, The Long War Journal, NJ, 20Oct15]

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