19 September 2016

Weekly Graphic: Taliban Battlespace in Afghanistan, 2016

This map reflects the current Taliban battlespace in Afghanistan. Districts shaded in red are under Taliban control, meaning that the district headquarters in the main town, as well as the majority of surrounding areas, are controlled by the Taliban. The districts in yellow are partly under Taliban control. Although the Afghan government still holds the district headquarters, the Taliban holds power in surrounding areas. The Afghan government confirmed in late July that roughly a third of Afghanistan’s 384 districts are under serious threat from insurgent groups. Our research suggests that 44 districts are under Taliban control and 101 are under partial Taliban control. 

The Taliban have been able to successfully push forward and capture territory all across Afghanistan for several reasons. Firstly, the Afghan government and its security forces are weak and fragile, facing internal dissention and unable to combat the Taliban on more than one front at a time. Secondly, the Taliban have been able to reach across the ethnolinguistic and tribal barriers that have historically kept Afghanistan’s population divided, allowing it to garner support and establish footholds all over the country. Lastly, the Taliban are well organized and effective, despite having three leaders in as many years. It has a hierarchical leadership structure, with regional commanders that have support and knowledge of the areas they control. Because of this, the group is able to execute surges and take territory on multiple fronts simultaneously.

The Taliban now control more of northern Afghanistan than they did from 1996 to 2001. However, their largest gains are in the southern provinces of Helmand and Uruzgan, where they recently laid siege to both provincial capitals – prompting the United States to redeploy several hundred troops to aid the Afghan National Security Forces. 

The Taliban constitute a major threat to the weak, U.S.-backed Afghan government, and continue to push through Afghanistan, making it unlikely that we will see an end to the Afghan civil war any time soon. For more information,check out this week’s Deep Dive.

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