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Afghan Forces Readying to Launch Offensive to Retake Eastern District

FILE - Afghan National Army soldiers guard at a checkpoint on the way to the Sangin district of Helmand province, Afghanistan, Wednesday, Dec. 23, 2015.
FILE - Afghan National Army soldiers guard at a checkpoint on the way to the Sangin district of Helmand province, Afghanistan, Wednesday, Dec. 23, 2015.

Afghan security forces are preparing to launch an operation to retake an eastern border district a day after it fell to the Taliban, officials said Sunday.

The Islamist insurgency overran and captured Janikheil district in the eastern Paktia province on Saturday, and local authorities confirmed that dozens of Afghan forces were killed in the fighting.

A spokesman for the Afghan Defense Ministry, Dawlat Waziri, told VOA Sunday “enough” forces are in the area under the leadership of the regional crops commander and preparing to stage a counter-offensive to take back Janikhil.

“It is not difficult to retake the district from the Taliban but security forces are moving carefully because the insurgents have heavily mined roads in the area,” Waziri noted, adding teams of experts are currently engaged in clearing the explosives.

District governor Abdul Rahman Solamal told Afghanistan's Tolo TV Sunday a prolonged presence of the Taliban in Janikheil would improve its mobility to threaten security in neighboring provinces.

He blamed provincial authorities and security institutions for failing to take timely steps to prevent the collapse of the district, saying it had been under Taliban siege for about a month, causing severe shortages of food and weapons for the security forces.

Fierce battles

The governor insisted his repeated calls for urgent help were not responded to, leading to the fall of Janikheil and he confirmed killing of at least 30 Afghan security forces in fierce battles after around 1,200 Taliban insurgents launched a decisive assault on Friday night.

Janikheil sits at a key transit route that includes links to neighboring Khost province and Pakistan.

The Haqqani network of terrorists fighting along side the Taliban in Afghanistan has been active eastern and southeastern provinces.

Afghan officials say the network is using its sanctuaries across the Pakistani border for planning insurgent attacks. Islamabad denies the charges and says it has dismantled the militant infrastructure from its border areas, including North Waziristan, assertions Kabul disputes.

Intense fighting has been raging in several northern and northeastern Afghan provinces, including Kunduz, Baghlan and Takhar while Taliban insurgents have also made significant advances in the southern Helmand province.

According to a recent report by the U.S. Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), the Western-backed Kabul government in the first five months of this year lost control of nearly five percent of its territory to the Islamist insurgency.

Independent Afghan critics and politicians blame political power struggle and internal differences between President Ashraf Ghani and his unity government’s Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah for latest battlefield setbacks.