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Afghan army retakes district from Taliban
January 11, 2016
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KABUL: Afghan security forces have retaken a district in the north of the country, killing 30 Taliban fighters and capturing vehicles and weapons from the insurgents, the defence ministry said on Sunday.

The rare positive news for the Afghan military comes as the Taliban are expanding their 14-year-insurgency with an unprecedented winter surge, which analysts suggest is aimed at increasing their leverage before planned peace talks.

Afghan army, police and special forces units launched a fierce offensive on Friday to recapture Darqad in Takhar province.

They defeated the Taliban after two days of intense fighting that left many militants dead or wounded, the defence ministry said in a statement on Sunday.

“The district has been entirely captured by the Afghan forces, the enemy suffering heavy casualties have been defeated,” it said.

Some twenty militants and one Afghan soldier had died in two days of fighting, it added. A Takhar provincial spokesman confirmed the news, adding that some militants were hiding in the residential areas of the district.

“A search and clearance operation is ongoing to arrest or kill these militants hiding in people’s houses,” Sonatullah Timor said.

Darqad, located on the banks of the Oxus river on the border with Tajikistan, was captured by the militants in late October in a battle that had left at least six Afghan security force members dead.

Afghan troops and police have been struggling to contain the Taliban insurgency since US-led foreign troops ceased combat operations at the end of 2014.

Afghan forces are struggling to man the front lines against a resurgent Taliban, in part because of untold numbers of “ghost” troops who are paid salaries but only exist on paper.

The nationwide problem has been particularly severe in the southern Helmand province, where the Taliban have seized vast tracts of territory in the 12 months since the US and Nato formally ended their combat mission and switched to training and support.

“At checkpoints where 20 soldiers should be present, there are only eight or 10,” said Karim Atal, head of Helmand’s provincial council. “It’s because some people are getting paid a salary but not doing the job because they are related to someone important, like a local warlord.”

In some cases, the “ghost” designation is more literal - dead soldiers and police remain on the books, with senior police or army officials pocketing their salaries without replacing them, Atal said.

He estimates that some 40 per cent of registered forces don’t exist, and says the lack of manpower has helped the Taliban seize 65 per cent of the province - Afghanistan’s largest - and threaten the provincial capital, Lashkar Gah. Those men who do serve face even greater danger because of the no-shows. In the last three months alone, some 700 police have been killed and 500 wounded, he said.

The province’s former deputy police chief, Pacha Gul Bakhtiar, said Helmand has 31,000 police on the registers, “but in reality it is nowhere near that.”

Nearly 15 years after the US-led invasion that toppled the Taliban, and despite billions of dollars in military and other aid, corruption remains rife in Afghanistan and local security forces have struggled to hold off insurgent advances across the country. Last year the Taliban seized the northern city of Kunduz for three days, marking their biggest foray into a major urban area since 2001.

The Defence Ministry declined to comment on ghost security forces. Interior Ministry spokesman Sediq Sediqqi acknowledged the problem and said an investigation has been launched, without providing further details.


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