On August 17, Taliban insurgents overran the provincial capital of Ghazni, leaving 14 security forces killed and 20 injured. While US forces provided air support in a government led a multi-pronged counterattack leaving an estimated 150 insurgents killed, there are conflicting reports of whether they were ultimately successful in retaking the city.
According to the Washington Post, the assault began at 2 AM, when Taliban forces launched multiple attacks against various parts of the city, including setting fire to local TV and telecommunication towers. The Guardian added that during this process, Taliban forces used mosque loudspeakers to tell civilians to “Stay in your house, otherwise you will be responsible for your death.”
The Afghan government responded to the situation by launching a counterattack with United States air support in the form of attack helicopters and a drone strike. Though Defence Ministry spokesman Mohammad Radmanish claimed government forces had retaken control of the city, The New York Times and BBC reported that the Taliban still have control over most of the city except for a select number of government buildings.
Geographically, the city of 140,000 is in a strategic location on the Kabul-Kandahar highway that connects the Taliban controlled south and government-controlled north, only 120 kilometres from the capital Kabul. If the city is under Taliban control, the city threatens the security of the surrounding 8 provinces and shows the failure of the American and Afghan strategy of controlling population centres rather than territory.
The number of civilian casualties is unknown, as civilians were trapped in their homes, with fighting between government and insurgent forces in the streets. The Washington Post reports that much-needed city services are non-existent, like ambulances, likely raising the civilian death count.
Though fighting has subsided since August 17, many civilians are still trapped in their homes with pockets of continued fighting. CBS reports that Taliban fighters have appropriated elevated positions throughout the city to combat government reinforcements.
A Taliban leader told a New York Times reporter in the city after the it had supposedly been retaken by government forces, “We don’t want to kill you, but we have orders not to allow civilians out in the city.” Those who are able continue to flee from the city on foot, as heavily mined roads prevent vehicular access to and from the city.
CBS reports that the number of Taliban attacks have increased after US and NATO have ended their major combat operations in 2014. This attack comes after what the UN reports was the deadliest period of 6 months for Afghan civilians in the past ten years, with 1,700 killed between January and June of this year.
There are questions of how this is going to affect ceasefire negotiations between the Afghan government and Taliban insurgents – The Guardian reports that the Afghan government were hoping to offer terms during the Eid al-Adha festival in August after an unprecedented three-day truce last June during the Eid al-Fitr holiday. One can only hope that this is merely a costly one-off event, rather than a sign of more fighting to come.
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