Ghazni City remains under assault, despite RS assurances

On Aug. 10, the day that Taliban launched its coordinated assault on the provincial capital of Ghazni City, Resolute Support assured the world that the attack was repelled and Afghan forces remained in control. Resolute Support described the attack as a “failed attempt” that would be used by the press to generate sensational headlines. Two days later, Afghan forces are still battling entrenched Taliban fighters inside the city, and the vital Kabul-Kandahar remains severed.

“Afghan forces held their ground and maintain control of all govt. centers,” Resolute Support proclaimed in a tweet on Aug. 10 just hours after the Taliban entered Ghazni City.

Resolute Support then took a poke at the press, anticipating that the so-called “failed attempt by Taliban to seize terrain” would create dramatic headlines in the press.

“Another failed attempt by Taliban to seize terrain, while creating strategically inconsequential headlines,” the NATO command stated.

Resolute Support’s pollyannish assessment of the status of Ghazni City has not held up well. By all accounts, the city remains contested. The Taliban is openly manning checkpoints and occupying homes to use as fighting positions, while the “unrecovered bodies of policemen, insurgents and civilians” remain in the streets and civilians are fleeing the city, according to The New York Times.

“Government radio and television was shut down and only Radio Shariat, a Taliban station, was broadcasting” in Ghazni City, The Times noted.

At least 80 Afghan security personnel have been killed so far and the city’s main police station is on fire as the Taliban fights to control it, a member of Ghazni’s provincial council told The Australian.

The deputy head of Ghazni’s provincial council painted an even more dire picture, claiming that Afghan forces are clinging to the government buildings as the Taliban controls the rest of the city.

“Only the police headquarters, governor’s office, and a few departments are under Afghan forces’ control,” Amanullah Kamrani, the deputy head of the provincial council told RFE/RL. “The rest are under the Taliban fighters’ control.”

The Taliban also torched the officials of the Independent Election Commission earlier today, TOLONews reported.

In a sign of just how dire the situation is in Ghazni City, Afghanistan’s Army Chief of Staff, Mohammad Sharif Yaftali, is reportedly heading south from Kabul to take charge of the military’s operations to regain control of the city.

Outside of Ghazni City, the Taliban has severed the Kabul-Kandahar Highway (the Ring Road or Highway 1) as well as the road that connects Gazni City to Gardez, the provincial capital of Paktia. The Taliban has established checkpoints along the roads and seeded them with IEDs, and blown up bridges in order to prevent reinforcements from reaching Gardez City. The Taliban ambushed Afghan forces in Sayyedabad district in Wardak, 80 kilometers north of Ghazni City, earlier today, according to TOLONews.

If its past operations in Farah and Kunduz cities are any indication, it is unlikely that the Taliban will hold onto areas it controls in Ghazni City for long. The Afghan military and police still maintain numerical superiority over the Taliban, even if their esprit de corps and fighting capabilities are lacking. And the US military, with airpower, special forces, and other combat enablers, has proven to be the deciding factor in past engagements in major urban battles (US Special forces and air support were instrumental in regaining control of Kunduz City in both 2015 and 2016). However, battles such as the the one ongoing in Ghazni, expose the glaring weaknesses of the Afghan security forces and shed light on the Taliban’s ability to organize and mass for attacks against a numerically superior foe.

Additionally, these battles reveal a disturbing pattern of misinformation and deception by Resolute Support when it comes to assessing and reporting on the Taliban’s attacks on major cities as well as its assaults on district centers. Resolute Support has issued inaccurate and overly optimistic statements claiming Afghan forces were in charge when the Taliban took full control of Kunduz City for two weeks in 2015, and partial control of Kunduz City in 2016 and Farah City in May 2018. Additionally, Resolute Support has mislead the public about the status of districts such as Nawa in 2016 and Sangin in 2017 in Helmand.

Resolute Support has spun the narrative that Afghan forces are competent while the Taliban is incapable of overrunning and controlling major cities. While the performance of the Afghan security forces speaks for itself, this narrative ignores the fact that the Taliban is able to launch assaults on major cities by controlling remote and rural districts. The US military, which makes up the bulk of Resolute Support’s command, has repeatedly dismissed the Taliban’s control of rural districts as “not important” and has said these districts have “less strategic importance” than more populous areas. The Taliban disagrees, and has used these “less strategic” districts to assault cities such as Ghazni, Kunduz, and Farah.

Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD's Long War Journal.

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3 Comments

  • Brian L says:

    Nobody ever won a battle by insisting that everything was just fine…. Army PR seems to be stuck in the 1940s. All this does is breed contempt.

  • Nick Mastrovito says:

    Bill, you’re way out there. While these might be tough battles for the barely legitimate govt and military, it represents the fact that the Taliban cannot hold terrain.

    • Passer by says:

      It depends what you mean “cannot hold terrain”. Yes, they can not hold a big city for a long time, but on the other hand the number of districts under Taliban control is increasing with every year. So they do hold terrain outside of the biggest cities. And if this Taliban expansion continues, they will simply suffocate the big cities by blocking the roads and destroying the power lines.

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