Taliban narco-jihadis killed at least 68 members of the U.S.-backed Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF) and injured 38 others in fierce clashes over the weekend in the terrorist group’s opium-rich stronghold of Helmand, Afghanistan’s largest province located along the Pakistani border.
According to the New York Times (NYT), the fatalities accounted for the ANDSF’s “worst loss of the year.”
While Voice of America (VOA) noted that the “predawn” attack took place on Saturday, NYT reported that it took place the previous day.
The Taliban has intensified deadly attacks against American troops and members of the ANDSF, which includes military and army units, as U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration boosted peace-seeking efforts in recent months.
Acknowledging that a military victory is unattainable, Trump administration officials have made the negotiated reconciliation between the Afghan government and the Taliban the primary goal of its strategy to end the war — raging since October 2001.
This month peace negotiations have yielded two draft agreements — the eventual U.S. military withdrawal and Taliban assurances that Afghanistan will no longer harbor international terrorists. However, the narco-jihadi group continues to refuse to agree to a ceasefire and allow Kabul to participate in the ongoing negotiations with the Trump administration.
Over the weekend, Taliban jihadis launched an attack on “several security outposts” in Helmand province, the terrorist group’s stronghold, VOA reported.
“Several outposts were captured and looted by insurgents,” Hajji Dawoud Shah, the head of Helmand’s Sangin district where the attack took place, told the Times.
“All three posts were wiped out by the Taliban, none of the forces in them survived,” Mira Jan Akka, a tribal elder from Sangin, added, echoing Shah.
Sen. Mohammed Hashim Alokozai who represents the Helmand district and sits on the Afghan parliament’s defense panel told VOA the Taliban assault “killed at least 65 pro-government forces, including 48 Afghan National Army (ANA) personnel, and injured 38 others.”
NYT placed the estimated number of injuries at up to 43.
“The clashes were still continuing in the area,” he added, VOA noted on Sunday.
On Monday, Khaama Press (KP), citing the Helmand government, reported that airstrikes killed the shadow intelligence for Sangin district recently appointed by the Taliban along with fiver other jihadis.
“More than 20 Taliban fighters have been killed in Helmand in the last week,” KP noted.
A spokesman for the Taliban acknowledged that the terrorist group overran two bases in Helmand and killed at least 52 soldiers over the weekend.
Helmand and neighboring Kandahar, the Taliban’s birthplace, are considered two of the bloodiest provinces for U.S. troops and their allies.
According to the United Nations, they are also the two top opium-producing provinces in Afghanistan, the world’s number one supplier of opium and heroin despite nearly $9 billion in American taxpayer funds devoted to counternarcotics in the South Asian country since the conflict started.
Taliban jihadis generate most of their funding from trafficking and cultivating opium, the primary ingredient in deadly heroin that is making its way onto American streets where it is fueling the unprecedented number of lethal drug overdoses.
According to the U.S. Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), a watchdog agency, the Taliban controls the vast majority of Helmand.
“Hilmand remained the country’s leading opium poppy cultivating province, followed by Kandahar, Uruzgan, and Nangarhar,” the U.N. reported in November 2018.
It remains unclear whether the United States will push the Taliban to cut its ties with opium and heroin.
The Trump administration quietly ended its much-touted counter-opium airstrike campaign in recent months after SIGAR criticized the approach as too expensive, noting that it only takes the jihadis a few days to replace the destroyed heroin labs.
The Pentagon has long accused Pakistan of harboring the Afghan Taliban, an allegation denied by Islamabad. Trump administration officials have recently credited Pakistan with using its influence over the Taliban to convince the group to engage in peace negotiations with the United States.
The Taliban has conducted big attacks in other Afghan provinces this month, killing dozens of police and soldiers. Clashes with the insurgents in northern Kunduz province on Friday also killed two American soldiers, according to the U.S. military.
Pro-government forces in Afghanistan have suffered heavy casualties in recent years while battling the Taliban. But Afghan officials have been barred from releasing battlefield casualty information to media since 2017.
Nevertheless, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani revealed in January that predominantly Taliban terrorists had killed 45,000 ANDSF members since he took office in September 2014 alone.
Taliban narco-jihadis and the United States are expected to reconvene peace negotiations later this month in Qatar.
The Helmand attack marked the second large scale attack at the hands of the Taliban in less than a month.
On March 17, Taliban terrorists captured at least 58 members of the ANDSF and killed an estimated 16 others in Afghanistan’s Badghis province located along the country’s border with Turkmenistan.