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Control of a District

Afghan War News> Districts > Control of a District

There are about 400 districts located in 34 provinces across Afghanistan. The vast majority of these districts are under "government control". The meaning of "government control" is subject to interpretation. 1.

Explanation of District Control. Effective "control of a district" would indicate certain metrics have been obtained. These metrics would include the following measurements. The Taliban 'shadow government' does not function, the formal or informal judicial system is used (not the Taliban's judicial courts), the roads are clear of IEDs, insurgent activity is at a minimum, residents are not in fear for their lives, schools are open and not under the influence of the Taliban, and medical clinics are functioning and free from Taliban intimidation, and commerce is lively with an active bazaar. A functioning district would have a District Governor (DGov) and District Chief of Police (DCoP) working in the district center on a daily basis as well as representatives from MoPH, MRRD, and other government ministries. The Afghan National Police would have a handle on crime and are able to freely move about the district.

Explanation of Control of a District Center. The "control of a district center" is when a district center compound is occupied by Afghan National Police (ANP) with possible augmentation from other security forces such as the Afghan Local Police (ALP) and Afghan National Army (ANA). The actual terrain controlled under this situation would be the maximum effective range of the Afghan National Defense Security Forces (ANDSF) weapons systems - likely AK-47s and PKM machine guns. 400-800 meters during the day and much less at night. The DGov is likely not present - conducting his business by cell phone from the provincial capital or Kabul. The DCoP may or may not be present. Very few government representatives will be found - in fear for their safety and unable to work if present because their movement in the district is extremely limited. In effect, a small compound is secure but isolated from its citizens and very little in the form of governance or development takes place. In many cases the district security forces are resupplied by air with air support from the Afghan Air Force or by periodic convoys by the Afghan National Army.

Taliban Control of District Centers. Every fighting season (April to October) the Taliban manage to wrest control of several district centers. They hold on to the district centers for a few days or weeks until the Afghan government security forces mount a counterattack to regain control of the district center. Many times, upon determining that a government operation is about to commence, the Taliban will withdraw - usually after planting a number of IEDs in the area and along the access routes to the district center.

Clear, Hold and Build. In a counterinsurgency environment the counterinsurgent forces would clear an area, hold it with security forces and then build up the area through governance and development. The Afghan National Defense and Security Forces are doing well with the "clearing" operations - typically conducted with the Special Operations kandaks and regular ANA units in conjuction with the Afghan National Police and National Directorate of Security. 3. Unfortunately the "hold" and "build" part of the counterinsurgency is lacking. The "hold" part usually amounts to the stationing of 30-50 Afghan National Police tasked with occupying the district center (and very little patrolling outside the compound walls). The "build" part usually doesn't take place - government officials (DGov, ministry representatives, teachers, and others) are hesitant to re-enter a contested district and will conduct business from the provincial capitals. 2.

Districts Under Contested or Under Taliban Control. The Afghan government is less than transparent about which districts country are contested by the Taliban and which districts are controlled by the Taliban. Resolute Support HQs has taken its eye off the districts and probably doesn't have a clue. There is some information available for those not privy to the classified reporting (which probably is less than accurate). One of the better sources is The Long War Journal which has published a map of those districts contested by or controlled by the Taliban. See "Taliban controls or contests scores of districts in Afghanistan", by Bill Roggio and Caleb Weiss, The Long War Journal, October 5, 2015. In addition, the Long War Journal  update a district control map periodically. Many districts operate under parallel forms of government - with the Afghan government funding health clinics and education but the Taliban actually providing the administration within the district.

Sangin District
A Typical District Center Under "Government Control"

Sangin district, Helmand province is located in the south of Afghanistan; to the west of Kandahar city. It is a volatile district and also a well-known poppy growing area. The British and U.S. Marines have fought long and hard to secure the district from the Taliban, drug traffickers, and local tribesmen since 2006. Prior to 2006 the area was considered to be under the control of the Taliban. Other Coalition forces also were engaged in fighting in the Sangin district to include Estonian and Danish units. Since the withdrawal of international combat troops the securing of Helmand province and its 13 districts have fallen to the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF). The reality of Sangin is that the Afghan government forces control the district center but very little of the terrain within the district. If the government forces move very far from the district center it is usually via a large convoy. Many of the adjacent districts - Baghran, Kajaki, Musa Qala, and Naw Zad are also largely under Taliban control (excepting of course the governmental district center). Read more about Sangin district.

Map of Sangin District Helmand Province Afghanistan
Map of Helmand Province with Sangin District Circled in Red

News Reports about Districts Under Attack

November 28, 2022, "The Tyranny of Color-Coded Maps: What We Get Wrong About Measuring Control During Armed Conflict", Modern War Institute at West Point.

January 30, 2018. "Taliban threaten 70% of Afghanistan, BBC finds", BBC News.

August 7, 2017. "Seesaw Conflict With Taliban Takes Toll in Fallen Afghan District", by Mujib Mashal - NYTs correspondent in Kabul, The New York Times, August 7, 2017. A description of the fight for Taiwara district in Ghor province.

March 28, 2017. "Afghan Taliban lists 'Percent of Country under the control of Mujahideen'", by Bill Roggio, The Long War Journal.

February 1, 2017. "Afghan government has lost territory to the insurgency", Long War Journal. SIGAR report (Jan 30, 2017) states that ". . . the Afghan government controls or influences just 52 percent of the nation's districts today compared to 72 percent in Nov. 2015."

September 14, 2015. "The 2015 Insurgency in the North (2): Badakhshan's Jurm district under siege", Afghanistan Analysts Network. Obaid Ali recountes the history of the struggle for this northeastern district.

September 3, 2015. "The Second Fall of Musa Qala: How the Taleban are expanding territorial control", Afghanistan Analysts Network (AAN). Thomas Ruttig explains how the Taleban are making stealthily making headway by controlling the districts.

August 30, 2015. "Afghan Forces Recapture Symbolic Southern District", Gandhara Blog. The Taliban are dislodged from the Musa Qala district center by the ANDSF.

August 30, 2015. "Musa Qala District Falls to Taliban", Afghan War Blog.

August 28, 2015. "Battles Rages for Control of Key Afghan District". Voice of America. Taliban forces captured the district center of Musa Qala. Government forces are poised to retake the government center.

June 7, 2015. "MoD: 40 to 40 Districts in Afghanistan Face Threats". Tolo News.

October 22, 2015. "Taliban control 3 districts in Afghan provinces of Wardak and Kunduz". The Long War Journal. Sayyidabad, Chahar Darah, and Dasht-i-Archi are under the Taliban's thumb.

September 6, 2014. "Taliban Are Nearing Control of Key District". The New York Times. The Taliban are threatening to take control of the district center of Sangin.

August 23, 2014. "Taliban offensive in southern Afghanistan worst fighting in years". The Washington Post. Government forces control very little territory in Sangin district and can barely hold on to the district center.

December 17, 2013. "Afghan Army Gives up District Without a Fight". Commentary Magazine. Reports indicate that the ANA and Taliban are conducting joint patrols in Sangin district.



1. For a list of districts in Afghanistan see WikipediA's page on Afghan districts.

2.  For more on the inadequate "hold" and "build" parts of counterinsurgency strategy by Afghan security forces read "Analysts Warn of Lapse in Security Follow Up in Areas Cleared of Taliban", Tolo News, August 30, 2015.

3. Read a typical Resolute Support press release on a corps level operation to "clear" a district in "Afghan forces conduct successful ops in eastern part of country", United States Central Command, August 17, 2015.

4. For an explanation of 'parallel form of district government' read One Land, Two Rules: Delivering public services in insurgency-affected Andar district in Ghazni province, Afghanistan Analysts Network (AAN), June 13, 2019.


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