Taliban launches coordinated assault on Farah City

Taliban fighters in control of Farah’s main bazaar.

The Afghan Taliban launched a large-scale assault overnight on the capital city of Farah province and overran an intelligence headquarters and several police checkpoints. Afghan security forces responded rapidly to the city to fight off the Taliban with support from Coalition aircraft and other assets.

The Taliban assault on Farah City should put to rest any claims by the US military that the Taliban is losing ground in Afghanistan.

Heavily armed Taliban fighters, using captured Afghan military HUMVEEs and police pickup trucks, launched the coordinated assault on Farah City overnight from multiple directions, according to local reports. ATN News reported that “at least three parts of the city came under the control of Taliban,” while Pajhwok Afghan News noted that “the rebels had captured the 3rd police district and stormed the intelligence department.” Taliban fighters also reportedly attacked the hospital and killed two police officers who were receiving treatment, and may also be advancing on the prison.

Afghan officials and the Ministry of Defense have painted a brighter picture of the fighting in Farah City. According to MoD spokesman General Mohamamd Radmanish, Taliban forces have been stopped on the outskirts of the city and are two miles from the city center, Khaama Press reported. Radmanish noted that “a large number of militants have taken part in the attack” and “scores of militants have also joined the Taliban from the other parts of the country and the neighboring provinces.”

Basir Salangi, the governor of Farah province, who took over in January after his predecessor resigned due to the deteriorating security situation, claimed the Taliban failed to capture any government buildings and will “soon they will be thwarted from the city.”

“The situation is not concerning and with the arrival of commando forces they (Taliban) will be defeated Inshallah,” Salangi said, according to TOLONews.

Resolute Support, NATO’s command in Afghanistan, also downplayed the Taliban assault on Farah City and claimed it “remains under govt. control.”

“The ANDSF [Afghan National Defense Security Forces], supported by US Air Force, including US Air Force A-10s are on the offensive against Taliban,” the command tweeted.

Resolute Support made similar claims when the Taliban overran Kunduz City in 2015 and 2016, and stated the city was under government control when in fact the Taliban occupied it.

The Taliban is neither “desperate” nor “losing ground”

Today’s assault on Farah City should put to rest the US military’s assertion that the Taliban is on the path to defeat. At a May 3 Pentagon press briefing Pentagon Chief Spokesperson Dana W. White described the Taliban as “desperate” because it is “losing ground.” Additionally, White said that over the last year, “things are moving in the right direction.”

Yet, the Taliban has launched multiple attacks on district centers and now controls or contests nearly 59 percent of the country’s 407 districts, according to ongoing tracking by FDD’s Long War Journal. Farah City is one of several provincial capitals that is directly threatened by the Taliban. Ghazni City, Kunduz City, Lashkar Gah, and Tarin Kot are also directly threatened by the Taliban, which has amassed forces on its outskirts and controls or contests multiple districts around the city centers.

Resolute Support has downplayed its assessments of the status of many of Afghanistan’s districts. For instance, Farah City is considered to be “government influenced,” yet the Taliban clearly have had the resources to threaten it (LWJ has long assessed Farah City to be contested). Ghazni City is considered “government controlled,” yet all reporting from the city indicates it si contested, or worse (LWJ also has long assessed Ghazni City to be contested).

Resolute Support has also downplayed the Taliban’s control of more rural districts. At the end of March, Resolute Support spokesman Captain Tom Gresback claimed that Taliban operations in remote district centers “represent a significant lowering of ambition,” as the Taliban failed in its strategic goal of seizing provincial capitals.

Gresback repeating what General John Nicholson, the commander of Resolute Support, said two months prior. In Jan. Nicholson claimed Afghan forces had a successful 2017 beacuse it “[denied] the Taliban any of their stated battlefield objectives … In 2017 the Taliban failed to take any provincial capitals.”

However, Nicholoson falsely attributed a strategic goal to the Taliban that it never claimed. (For more background on this, see Afghan and Coalition forces prepare for 2018 offensive against the Taliban.)

The Taliban has explicitly stated that part of its strategy is to take control of remote areas in order to pressure more populated areas, including district centers and provincial capitals. In fact, this strategy was explained by Mullah Aminullah Yousuf, the Taliban’s shadow governor for Uruzgan, in April 2016.

Today’s assault on Farah City highlights the importance of the Taliban’s strategy to control rural areas, and the failure of the US military to properly acknowledge that threat.

Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD's Long War Journal.

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