While much of the attention of ISAF and Afghan forces has focused on the provinces of Helmand and Kandahar in the south, the provinces of Ghazni and Zabul remain Taliban strongholds in the southeast. Last night, the Taliban overran the poorly defended Khogyani district center in Ghazni province, and then abandoned it hours later when Afghan and ISAF forces mounted a counterattack. From Reuters:
A large number of insurgents attacked and seized a district in an Afghan province Sunday night, officials said, the latest in a string of assaults on foreign and government targets.
Mohammad Yaseen, police commander for Khogyani district in Ghazni province, southwest of Kabul, told Reuters the militants had set fire to the district headquarters and police had suffered casualties defending the area.
Yaseen, who fled to the provincial capital, Ghazni city, did not know the exact number of casualties and said the insurgents were still holding the area.
The Interior Ministry released a statement later Monday saying the provincial police chief had travelled to the area to investigate and that Afghan police had regained control.
Several rooms in the district centre and a police vehicle were destroyed in the attack, it said, but gave no details on casualties.
Zabihullah Mujahid, a spokesman for the Taliban, said the Islamist group had carried out the attack, adding the militants had seized police vehicles and weapons.
The Taliban aren’t able to hold the district in the face of US and Afghan military power, but that wasn’t the intent. By overrunning the district center, the Taliban are sending a message to the Afghan people in the area that the Taliban remain entrenched in the region, and that cooperating with ISAF and the Afghan government comes at a cost. Also, the Taliban score an easy propaganda victory – this story hit the major wire services and will be disseminated throughout the West.
As the Reuters article correctly notes, Ghazni has been a fallback position for Taliban forces bugging out from the fighting in Kandahar. Ghazni is a known Taliban and al Qaeda hub in the southeast. Al Qaeda cells have been detected in the districts of Waghaz, Andar, Shah Joy, Gelan, and Ghazni, or five of the province’s 19 districts, according to ISAF press reports compiled by The Long War Journal. Senior Taliban and al Qaeda foreign fighter facilitators are known to operate in the district.
This story gets worse. According to The New York Times, the police defected to Taliban:
In Khogeyani, a volatile area southwest of the capital, the entire police force on duty Monday morning appears to have defected to the Taliban side. A spokesman for the Taliban said the movement’s fighters made contact with the Khogeyani’s police force, cut a deal, and then sacked and burned the station. As many as 19 officers vanished, as did their guns, trucks, uniforms and food.
Even the local police chief, who missed the attack, said he suspected a defection en masse.
“This was not an attack but a plot,” said Mohammed Yasin, the chief of the Khogeyani police force. “The Taliban and the police made a deal.”
A spokesman for the Taliban, Zabiullah Mujahid, said the Afghan officers decided to defect after “learning the facts about the Taliban.”
“We never force people to join us,” said Mr. Mujahid, whose name is fictitious. “The police joined us voluntarily and are happy to work with us, and to start the holy war shoulder-to-shoulder with their Taliban brothers.”
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