Taliban seizes second district in Ghazni as provincial capital remains contested

The Taliban overran a second district center in Ghazni as it battles Afghan forces to take control of the provincial capital of Ghazni City. Khwaja Umari district fell to the Taliban on Aug. 11, only one day after the Taliban launched its offensive on Ghazni City. The Taliban has not limited itself to attacking Ghazni City, but instead planned a province-wide offensive and beyond.

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid tweeted on Aug. 11 that the Khwaja Umari district center was “overrun” after a nighttime assault.

“Khwaja Umari DHQ [Gistrict headquarters), Polie [sic] HQ & all CPs overrun last night, tens of hireling gunmen killed/wounded/detained, large amount weapons/military equipment seized by Mujahidin,” Mujahid tweeted on his official Twitter account.

The fall of Khwaja Umari was not reported in the Afghan press, which has been focused on the fighting in the provincial capital. Reuters confirmed that the Afghan government lost control of the district on Aug. 13.

The Taliban previously overran Khwaja Umari in April 2018. During the assault, the Taliban killed the district governor and seven policemen and torched the government buildings. The Taliban later retreated from the district.

Khwaja Umari is one of two districts that fell to the Taliban over the weekend. Also on Aug. 11, the Taliban overran the district of Ajristan and routed elite Afghan Commandos who were assigned to defend it. Between 40 and 100 Commandos are thought to have been killed during the fighting. The Commandos retreated into the nearby mountains and the survivors were rescued days later.

The current fighting in and around Ghazni City indicates that the Taliban has a detailed plan to tie up Afghan forces while attempting to sieze the provincial capital. Additionally, the Taliban was able to mass its forces undetected. The Afghan military was clearly caught off guard and is struggling to get into the fight four days after the Taliban launched its attack.

Fighting between the Taliban and Afghan security forces has been reported throughout the province, and beyond. Ajristan and Khwaja Umari are the two districts that can be confirmed to have fallen to the Taliban. Additionally, as part of an effort to prevent reinforcements from reaching Ghazni City, the Taliban has blocked the Kabul-Kandhar Highway in Wardak province, and has shut down the roads that connect Ghazni City to neighboring Paktia province.

The status of Ghazni city remains unclear. Resolute Support (RS) and the Afghan government and military continue to claim that Afghan forces control the city. Lieutenant Colonel Martin O’Donnell, the spokesman for US Forces-Afghanistan, claimed that 140 Taliban fighters have been killed in airstrikes and “clearing operations are ongoing and sporadic clashes with the Taliban, particularly outside the city, continue,” Reuters reported. Senior Afghan officials claim that they are in control of the government buildings and much of the city. Both Resolute Support and the Afghan government and military have provided pollyannish assessments of the situation in Ghazni since the fighting began. [See LWJ report, Ghazni City remains under assault, despite RS assurances.]

However, independent press reports from Ghazni City, which include accounts by residents and local government officials, paints a different picture. The Taliban is said to be manning checkpoints and running patrols throughout the city. Its fighters are reportedly assaulting the government-held buildings and some are said to be on fire.

The Taliban’s Ghazni offensive takes place only one month after the much-heralded ceasefire that took place at the end of June. The Afghan government halted its operations for 17 days that spanned the Ramadan holiday, while the Taliban stopped fighting for three days. This cease fire, which was not coordinated between the Afghan government and the Taliban, created enthusiasm in Afghan and Western circles for peace talks. But the Taliban doubled down after its ceasefire expired and launched assaults throughout the country.

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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