Just after midnight on Aug. 10, the Taliban launched a coordinated assault on Ghazni City from multiple directions from outlying districts under its control. The status of the provincial capital of Ghazni remains unclear as communications have been severed.
Both the Afghan government (and Resolute Support) and the Taliban claim they control the city.
The Afghan government and Resolute Support have proven unreliable in the past when it denied that the Taliban took control of Kunduz City (in both 2015 and 2016), and Farah City earlier this year.
Resolute Support, NATO’s command in Afghanistan, issued a statement claiming the Afghan government controls the city and describes the Taliban assault on Ghazni City as “another failed attempt by Taliban to seize terrain, while creating strategically inconsequential headlines.”
U.S. Forces responded with close-air support this morning in #Ghazni. Afghan forces held their ground and maintain control of all govt. centers. Another failed attempt by Taliban to seize terrain, while creating strategically inconsequential headlines.
— USForces Afghanistan (@USFOR_A) August 10, 2018
However, that statement ignores the fact that the Taliban was able to mass an assault on a provincial capital by controlling the outlying districts. Ghazni City has had a significant underground Taliban presence and FDD’s Long War Journal has previously assessed the district as contested, despite the fact that Resolute Support currently assesses it as government controlled. [See LWJ report: Taliban activity in Ghazni City highlights deteriorating security in Afghanistan]
Additionally, the Taliban was able to plan, mass, and execute the attack undetected. Resolute Support and the US military have repeatedly downplayed the Taliban’s control of rural terrain and the importance these areas play in staging attacks on more populated areas, including at least eight provincial capitals and Kabul City.
The Afghan government also claimed its police and military forces in Ghazni City are in control of all areas and have driven out the Taliban.
The Taliban, on the other hand, released a statement at Voice of Jihad that claims that “Ghazni city falls to Mujahideen.”
“Mujahideen seized control of Ghazni city and its all installations and military units,” the Taliban claims.
The Taliban didn’t limit its attacks to Ghazni City. According to TOLONews, the Taliban shut down the Kabul-Kandahar Highway (or Highway 1, also known as the Ring Road) – the main road between the north an south.
While it is difficult to determine who exactly controls Ghazni City, this New York Times report indicates that Ghazni City is not yet under full government control, and that the Taliban advanced into the city center.
“Government officials denied the city was at risk of falling, but they conceded that the insurgents had fought to within 300 yards of the governor’s office and police headquarters,” the Times reported.
A member of the Ghazni City council told the Times that “the government is lying about sending reinforcements and the situation being under control … Nothing is under control, the security forces in government offices are just trying to block the Taliban from entering their offices.”
The Resolute Support narrative that the Taliban failed in its attack may prove to be true, but if history is a guide, the NATO command should not be trusted to evaluate the status of provincial capitals and even district centers during Taliban assaults.
In the fall of 2016, Resolute Support maintained that the Afghan government controlled Kunduz City when the Taliban clearly controlled half of it. During that same time period, Resolute Support insisted that Nawa district in Helmand province was under government control while Afghan forces were holed up in a few buildings in the district center, surrounded by Taliban fighters.
Perhaps the most deceiving Resolute Support statement occurred in March 2017, when the Taliban overran the Sangin district center in Helmand province. Afghan forces had to be evacuated by air under the cover of night to avoid being slaughtered. Resolute Support tried to spin the loss of Sangin as a victory. In reality, US aircraft leveled Sangin’s district center after evacuating defeated Afghan forces.
Most recently, in May 2018, Resolute Support denied that the Taliban entered Farah City and took control of areas, including government buildings, even as the Taliban was releasing videos and photographs of its fighters patrolling the city and inside key installations.