KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — About 300 Taliban fighters on Tuesday overran the tiny capital of a remote mountainous district in northeast Afghanistan, forcing police to retreat from their small outpost in the area, an official said.
The takeover was another indication of the deteriorating security situation in the north and east of the country, as well as a sign that the Taliban is preparing for a spring offensive against Afghan security troops and coalition forces.
Nuristan provincial police Chief Shamsul Rahman said the insurgents took control of the main village in rugged Waygal district during a pre-dawn raid. He added that police decided to retreat and said they suffered no casualties. By taking its seat, the insurgents essentially took over control of the small district.
Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid said the district was captured along with 12 police officers and their weaponry. He said the Taliban met little resistance and the rest of the police retreated in the direction of the provincial capital. However, Chief Rahman denied any of his men had been captured.
NATO said it had no forces at all in the district and would not comment on the incident, referring all questions to the Afghan Interior Ministry.
The region has seen an escalation in violence over the past few months. In neighboring Kunar province, Gov. Sayed Fazeullah Wahidi said elders in the Chapa Dara district had managed to negotiate the release of 19 police officers out of 40 abducted by the Taliban on March 27. Police originally reported that 50 were taken.
“We are trying to release the other 21, but they were taken to different places,” Mr. Wahidi said. “Those released are in good health, and we are trying hard to get the others released.”
The Taliban and other insurgents groups control large swaths of Nuristan, Kunar and other northeastern provinces near the Pakistani border. Insurgents retain safe havens in Pakistan’s neighboring lawless tribal regions and infiltrate across the border into Afghanistan to attack NATO troops.
Much of Afghanistan remains insecure, with little freedom of movement for security forces. On Sunday, a team of suicide bombers shot their way into the compound of a road construction company in eastern Paktika province, killing 23 people and wounding about 60.
Heavy fighting is expected to break out during the spring and summer in the south and southwest, where U.S.-led forces have focused their campaign against the insurgency. Although gains have been made in the region, often at great cost for coalition troops, officials warn the gains are reversible.
Chief Rahman said insurgents have had influence over large parts of Nuristan’s remote districts for months. He said police were restricted in their movements and did not have enough heavy weaponry.
“We were in a narrow place and we had no way to fight because we were restricted in our movements,” Chief Rahman said. “We had no casualties, and it was a good decision to leave to prevent casualties. There were not enough heavy weapons with the police.”
He did not say how many police were involved, but such small districts usually only have a couple dozen security forces on the ground. He added that meetings were under way in the provincial capital of Parun to decide whether to try retake the town.
Waygal has been the scene of bloody fighting in the past.
On Nov. 11, 2007, insurgents ambushed and killed six U.S. and three Afghan soldiers walking in the mountains of Waygal after a meeting with village elders. Another eight U.S. troops were wounded.