Dueling insurgencies test the limits of Afghan security forces

Afghanistan | Caught between the Taliban in the south and ISIS in the north, the country’s army calls for more help
by Anna K. Poole
Posted 8/03/16, 09:31 am

Wrenched between Taliban militants in the south and Islamic State (ISIS) loyalists to the north, Afghanistan’s security forces are feeling the heat. In recent days, the conflict-ridden country has struggled to defend itself against a spate of attacks, raising concerns that the Islamic insurgency is flourishing faster than the national army can stamp it out.

In recent days, the Taliban seized control of Kanashin district in southern Helmand province. The rebel group now controls 60 percent of the province, prized by the Taliban for the opium poppies that both fund the insurgency and source most of the world’s heroin supply. The conflict between insurgents and Afghan police is spreading north from Helmand, threatening surrounding provinces and targeting police checkpoints. Helmand officials say local police have fought alone, with 24 casualties so far and no support from the national army.

Kanashin’s fall is a direct result of a “lack of coordination among Afghan forces,” said Kareem Atal, director of Helmand’s provincial council. “The Afghan national army is not doing [its] job,” he added. Afghan military personnel in the area say they are waiting for airstrike backup.

In the face of continued Taliban assaults, Afghanistan’s police force is wearing thin.

“There is nothing to eat and wear, our men are staying in the trenches for 14 months, and they are homesick and have not got a single day off to take rest or be out of danger,” Anar Gul, a police commander based in Uruzgan province, near Helmand, told The New York Times. “We are just counting days and nights in this hardship, and any moment we are expecting death.”

This year, casualties among both Afghan civilians and security forces reached a record high, according to the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan.

The clash in Helmand comes just a week after a deadly bomb attack in Kabul rattled the nation. The suicide blast, which killed 80 and wounded another 231, marked the first time ISIS claimed a major attack on Afghanistan’s capital, raising concerns the terror group’s presence in the country might be more powerful than first thought. In response, President Ashraf Ghani launched a fresh military offensive targeting ISIS strongholds in Nagharhar, a northeastern province bordering Pakistan.

Afghan government officials say anti-ISIS operations, backed by U.S. airstrikes, are so far proving effective, reporting a high number of militant deaths and injuries. In recent days, five U.S. special forces members were wounded in a counterterrorism operation, the first report of American casualties in the fight against ISIS in Afghanistan.

“We have helped the Afghan security forces to reclaim significant portions of the territory that was previously controlled by Daesh,” U.S. Gen. John Nicholson said, using the Arabic term for ISIS. According to U.S. military reports, the number of ISIS militants in Afghanistan has declined by at least half—from 3,000 at the start of this year to an estimated 1,500.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Anna K. Poole

Anna is a WORLD Journalism Institute graduate and former WORLD correspondent.

 

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