As its forces pulled out from Ghazni City after a five-day stranglehold, the Taliban killed 45 Afghan security personnel in an attack on a military base in the northern province of Baghlan last night on the way out. The Taliban never slowed in launching numerous attacks across the country even as it committed significant resources to the fight in Ghazni.
The Taliban stormed the “Allahuddin military base in Baghlan-e Markazi district” during a late night assault and killed “36 soldiers and nine Afghan Local Policemen,” ATN News confirmed.
“Taliban has also seized all equipment which were available,” and its fighters are said to still be occupying the base, the Afghan news agency reported.
The assault in Baghlan occurred just one day after the Taliban overran a base in Faryab after besieging it for three days. At least 43 soldiers were killed and 17 more were captured, and the remaining 40 troops stationed there surrendered to the Taliban.
Attacks on military bases such as the ones in Faryab and Baghlan have become all too common. Reporting from Afghanistan indicates that the Taliban has been overrunning bases and checkpoints on an almost daily basis over the past two months.
The Taliban has used its control of rural districts to surround exposed Afghan military bases and outposts, kill or captures the Afghan security personnel, and loot the war material. These attacks also provide valuable propaganda to the Taliban, which often records its fighters occupying the bases. Equally important, the attacks continue to erode the confidence of Afghan civilians in the government’s ability to protect them and secure the country.
Resolute Support’s response to the Taliban’s absolute control of rural areas is to advise Afghan forces to pull back from more remote bases and checkpoints and protect the more populous areas of the country. However, as the recent assault on Ghazni and Farah cities proved – being two major and strategic provincial capitals in the east and west respectively – the Taliban is quite capable of threatening major population centers as well. The Taliban used its control of the rural areas surrounding the districts to launch major assaults and occupy Ghazni, Farah, and Kunduz City (twice) over the past three years.
Each of these major attacks went undetected by the Afghan military, police, and government, and Resolute Support. The Taliban’s dominance in the rural areas has seriously hampered the Afghan military and NATO’s ability to detect and deter these assaults. In each instance, local Afghan officials have warned the cities were under threat, while the Afghan government dismissed the claims and refused to send reinforcements. The Taliban planned and massed its forces undetected, and the Afghan government only sent in reinforcements and Resolute Support launched airstrikes after the Taliban occupied the cities.
Taliban withdraws from Ghazni City
The Taliban withdrew its forces from Ghazni City after five days of heavy fighting. Reinforcements from the Afghan military, Interior Ministry, and National Directorate of Intelligence entered the city and began clearing operations over the past several days. Reinforcements were delayed as the Taliban effectively blocked Highway 1 north and south of Ghazni City, as well as the road from Gardez from Paktia province.
The Taliban has not released an official statement announcing its withdraw from the provincial capital. However, an unnamed Taliban commander told Reuters that the Taliban withdrew to prevent a humanitarian disaster.
The US military, which sent Task Force-Southeast, US Special Forces, and the 1st Security Force Assistance Brigade advisors to help the Afghan military, claimed that it killed over 220 Taliban fighters during airstrikes in and around Ghazni City. The Afghan military claimed that between 500 and 600 Taliban fighters were killed. At least 100 Afghan security personnel and 150 civilians are also thought to have been killed during the fighting.
Hundreds of Taliban fighters entered the city on the night of Aug. 10 and took control of several neighborhoods. Afghan forces defended the government buildings as Taliban fighters patrolled the streets and established checkpoints.
The Afghan military and Resolute Support, NATO’s command in Afghanistan, denied from day one that the Taliban controlled any areas of the city, and downplayed the fighting in an effort to project an image of calm and control. Resolute Support initially described the attack as “another failed attempt to seize terrain, which will resolute in yet another eye-catching but strategically inconsequential headline.”
However, video and images from Ghazni City painted a different picture. Taliban fighters were seen openly manning checkpoints and patrolling the streets. Building were burned and civilians looted what appeared to be government buildings.
In addition to terrain in Ghazni City, the Taliban was able to seize full control of five of Ghazni province’s 19 districts. The Taliban now controls 10 districts and contests six more in Ghazni, according to an ongoing study by FDD’s Long War Journal.
The situation in the city became so dire that the Chief of Staff of the Afghan Army and two senior deputies from the Interior Ministry and the National Directorate of Security were put in charge of the operation to clear Ghazni City.
Resolute Support and the Afghan government will no doubt be eager to put the events of the last week in their rearview mirror. But, as in the Taliban incursions into Kunduz and Farah cities, it seems unlikely these two entities will ask the hard question of how the Taliban was able to launch its attack on Ghazni City in the first place.