Taliban jihadists are pushing into districts in southern Afghanistan that were secured by the U.S. military, now that foreign forces have left the area, reports The New York Times.
The Long War Journal reports that the Taliban has already overran a district in northern Afghanistan.
Last week, Rear Adm. John Kirby, the Pentagon press secretary, told reporters that the American military in Afghanistan will not target Taliban jihadists in 2015 unless they pose a direct threat to the United States.
“We’re not going to target Taliban [members] simply by virtue of the fact that they’re Taliban,” he said. “So being a member of the Taliban doesn’t mean that the United States is going to prosecute operations against you for that reason alone.”
“That said, we’ve also been clear that a member of the Taliban who undertakes missions against us or our Afghan partners, by that act alone, renders himself vulnerable and liable to U.S. action,” Kirby added.
Helmand province in southern Afghanistan has been one of the deadliest areas of the war for U.S. and Afghan forces fighting the Taliban. It is located next to Kandahar province, known as the birthplace of the extremist group.
The United States military ceremoniously ended its combat operations in Afghanistan earlier this month, more than 13 years after the war against the Taliban started. U.S. and NATO troops pulled out of Helmand in October.
“In Helmand, the fighting has been heaviest in Sangin, where the insurgents remain within a mile of the government buildings in the district center,” reports The New York Times. “But it has also been fierce in the districts of Musa Qala, Kajaki, and Now Zad in the north, and even, recently, in Marja District south and west of here — an area that had been thoroughly pacified by United States Marines after a major push in 2010.”
The Times highlights a recent report authored by Coffey International Development, an independent consultant, showing that “by almost every measure Afghans in Helmand saw a worsening in corruption, security, government services, and delivery of justice since the departure of foreign forces.”
The Coffey report was commissioned by the international community.
Helmand has long been considered a Taliban stronghold. The Taliban’s June and July offensive threatened the fall of both Sangin District and Musa Qala District, according to the Times.
The Afghan security forces have suffered heavy losses in Helmand, “with over 1,300 security force members killed between June and November,” the Times reveals.
Corruption makes it difficult for authorities fighting to root out the Taliban.
“Our own commanders sell our bullets to the Taliban instead of giving them to us, and then they buy a nice house in Lashkar Gah and stay there, leaving the little guys out there to do the fighting,” Samiullah, a policeman in Sangin who goes by one name told the Times.
Nevertheless, the article notes that “even without coalition support, Afghan forces have managed to beat back the insurgents and keep them from totally overrunning a district.”
The same cannot be said for a district in northern Afghanistan that is already under Taliban control.
“Just one week after overrunning a district in the northern province of Jawzjan, the Afghan Taliban are now touting the existence of a training camp in neighboring Faryab province,” reports The Long War Journal.
“The jihadist group stormed the district of Khamyab in Jawzjan and forced Afghan security personnel to flee. The loss of Khamyab to the Taliban was confirmed by Fakir Muhammad Jawzjani, the provincial chief of police,” adds the Journal.
According to the official data obtained by the Times, an unprecedented number (more than 5,000) of Afghan police and soldiers have been killed in the fighting throughout 2014.