KABUL -- The Taliban claim to have captured dozens of districts in 2019, but in reality the group lost control of 14 districts and dozens of villages last year.
In an article published January 1 on the Taliban's official website, the group claimed it captured 28 district centres in 2019.
That claim is propaganda aimed at covering up the Taliban's massive losses to the Afghan National Defence and Security Forces (ANDSF), say Afghan officials.
"The Taliban's report and claims of capturing 28 districts are outright lies," said Fawad Aman, deputy spokesperson for the Ministry of Defence. "Besides not being able to capture any district, they even lost lots of territories last year."
The ANDSF cleared "14 districts and dozens of villages" from Taliban control in 2019, Aman said.
The districts the Taliban lost to the ANDSF include Warduj, Yamgan and Keran Wa Manjan in Badakhshan Province; Deh Yak, Khwaja Omari and Jaghatu in Ghazni Province; Darqad, Yangi Qala, Khwaja Ghar and Baharak in Takhar Province; Nad-e-Ali in Helmand Province; Shirin Tagab and Bilchiragh in Faryab Province; and Dahna-i-Ghori in Baghlan Province.
"In 2019, tens of key Taliban commanders, shadow governors, shadow district governors, and team leaders were killed in air and ground operations by Afghan forces," he said.
Some of the ANDSF operations include "destroying several drug processing and land mine factories", he added.
"This month alone, many Taliban commanders and team leaders have been killed in various provinces," Aman said.
"Mullah Sher Mohammad, a key Taliban commander in Samangan; Nabi Jan, a key Taliban commander and military chief for Pashtun Zarghun and Obe districts of Herat; Hafizullah, Taliban chief of logistics in Herat; Sahib Khan, Taliban team leader in Herat; Habibullah (aka Khanjar), Taliban team leader in Balkh Province; and Abdullah (aka Zubair), a key Taliban commander in Sar-e-Pul, were killed by the ANDSF," he said.
"The ANDSF are advancing, and with the passing of every day, areas under Taliban control are shrinking," he said. "Afghans will see a drop in areas controlled by the Taliban in two to three months."
In the article, the Taliban claimed that the group captured the district centres of Daychopan, Mizan, Arghandab and Naw Bahar districts of Zabul Province and Khwaja Ghar, Chah Aab, Darqad and Baharak districts in Takhar Province.
Local authorities in the two provinces rejected the Taliban's claims, calling them "baseless".
"I reject claims made by the Taliban of capturing districts of Zabul Province," Zabul Governor Rahmatullah Yarmal said January 4. "These claims are false."
"Right now as I am talking to you, elders of Arghandab District, which the Taliban claim to have captured its centre, are sitting in my office to share their problems with me," he said.
"2019 was full of achievements for the ANDSF in Zabul Province," he said. "The enemy was badly defeated and could not reach its evil goals."
"In 2019, we launched a large-scale operation named after Gen. Raziq in three different phases," Yarmal said.
The Taliban killed Gen. Abdul Raziq, the provincial police chief of Kandahar, and two others in October 2018, after a meeting with provincial officials and US Army Gen. Scott Miller, the commander of NATO-led Resolute Support Mission forces. The assassination was widely condemned.
"Contrary to Taliban claims, Shah Joy District and Highway No. 1 were cleared of the Taliban in these operations," Yarmal said.
"Key Taliban commanders and members were killed and captured," he added. "About 650 Taliban were killed [in Zabul] in air and ground attacks in 2019."
"Takhar Province has 16 districts, of which four districts face threats," said Muhammad Jawad Hejri, spokesperson for the Takhar provincial governor.
"Claims by the Taliban of capturing four districts in 2019 are baseless." he said. "While the Taliban attacked different parts of Takhar Province, they were never successful in capturing a single district centre."
"Every time the Taliban attacked, they had to retreat, suffering heavy losses," Hejri said January 4. "Two hundred fifty Taliban have been killed by security forces in the last two and half months in Takhar Province."
The Taliban suffered unprecedented losses in 2019 and have turned to propaganda to cover up their failures, analysts say.
"Security forces shifted from a defensive posture to an offensive one last year," said Aziz Stanakzai, a Kabul-based political analyst.
"They inflicted unprecedented blows on the Taliban in various provinces, and the military pressure forced the Taliban to finally agree to peace talks," he said.
"2019 was a year of failure for the Taliban on the battlefield," said Aminullah Shariq, a Kabul-based political analyst. "To cover their constant failures and losses on the battlefield and misguide the international community and people, the Taliban published a report [claiming] their achievements."
"But the reality is that they did not have any achievements in 2019," Shariq said.
"The Taliban release such reports in order for other countries to consider them a real power and give them more concessions on the negotiating table," he said.
This tactic, along with the Taliban's modus operandi of targeting civilians as a means of pressuring the Afghan government and its international allies at the negotiating table, has failed the group.
On December 11, Taliban suicide bombers targeted a key US military base in Parwan Province, wounding more than 70 civilians and badly damaging a medical facility under construction.
The assault came just four days after US negotiators resumed talks with the Taliban.
On September 2, a Taliban bombing in Kabul killed at least 16 and wounded 119 others, all civilians. Militants attacked Kunduz city at the time.
"All of the Taliban attacks that were launched to win at the negotiating table encountered total defeat by the ANDSF," Aman of the Defence Ministry said after those incidents.
"Their plan failed, and Afghans now understand that the Taliban are lying and unable to take over provinces," he said. "They only create terror and kill civilians in order to gain leverage in the negotiations."