Afghan City Suffers Surprise Four-Day Taliban Attack

On 13 August the Taliban launched a four-day surprise attack on Ghazni, a city in southern Afghanistan. The Associated Press reported that hundreds have fled to escape the fighting, leaving the city streets bare. Contradictory reporting has illustrated two drastically different images of the city: one where the Taliban roams the streets in broad daylight, and one where the city is controlled by the Afghan government. The Associated Press reported that 120 civilians and security forces were killed. However, the government has claimed that nearly 200 insurgents were killed. According to the United States military, the city is still under the Afghan military’s control. Several Twitter users have accused the Afghan government of misrepresenting the situation, criticizing it for demoralizing the Afghan forces and not doing enough to protect the city.

Residents suggest that the city has become dangerous for civilians. “Ghazni has become a ghost town,” one man told the Associated Press. In a press release from the United Nations, Rik Peeperkorn, the Humanitarian Coordinator for Afghanistan, warned that roads out of Ghazni were unsafe for travel, which could lead to an impending humanitarian crisis for those who remain in the city. He said that food, water, and medication are running low and that electricity is currently down.

June’s miraculous three-day ceasefire during Eid al-Fitr, along with potential peace talks between the United States and the Taliban, were promising developments for Afghanistan. United Nations official Tadamichi Yamamoto told the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) that “the brief ceasefire demonstrated that the fighting can be stopped and that Afghan civilians no longer need to bear the brunt of the war.” However, these developments have not yet had a major statistical effect on civilian casualties. UNAMA has been tracking civilian deaths since 2009, and they reported that civilian deaths this July increased by 1%, reaching a record high.

UNAMA also reported that the Taliban’s combined use of non-suicide and suicide improvised explosive devices (IEDs) have caused nearly half of all civilian casualties. They stated that ground engagements, targeted attacks, aerial operations, and abandoned explosives are the other deadliest threats to civilians. They also noted that the provinces of Kabul, Faryab, Nangarhar, Helmand, and Kandahar were the provinces with the most affected civilians. These figures suggest that it is possible to limit the number of casualties by focusing on eliminating these military tactics. For example, these statistics suggest that security measures, such as check points to detect IEDs, are better immediate investments than missions to clean up leftover explosives.

Understandably, Afghanistan’s residents and its diaspora are expressing shock and distress on social media over the state of Ghazni. There seems to be a fierce loyalty to the city’s rich culture and history. According to UNAMA, Ghazni was nominated the Asian Capital of Islamic Culture in 2013. While violence in Afghanistan is not unusual, the fighting in Ghazni is especially tragic due to the number of displaced and killed civilians. To limit civilian casualties, it seems that UNAMA’s data needs to be investigated further and the misrepresentation of the conflict needs to be addressed.