Ghazni City falls to the Taliban

Ghazni City, the capital of a southeastern Afghan province with the same name, is the tenth provincial capital to fall to the Taliban in one week. It is strategically important terrain for the jihadists, as it sits on the road to Kabul.

Ghazni Province, which Osama bin Laden once described as a key safe haven for Al Qaeda, is now effectively under Taliban control. A senior member of al Qaeda’s global management team was killed during a counterterrorism raid in a Taliban-controlled area of Ghazni just last year.

The Taliban launched their final assault on Ghazni City yesterday, quickly capturing the governor’s compound, the police headquarters, the prison, and other key installations.

Ghazni’s governor, Dawood Laghmani, fled the city after cutting a deal with the Taliban. So did the police chief. Laghmani was “escorted” out of Ghazni City and was later arrested by Afghan security forces in Wardak province for “handing over the city to the Taliban,” according to Afghan journalist Bilal Sarwary.

The Taliban now effectively controls Ghazni province, as it has captured all but three districts, which are contested, according to an ongoing assessment of the security situation by FDD’s Long War Journal. Ghazni province, which straddles both the south and east of Afghanistan is the first province in the region to fall to the Taliban.

Ghazni City, which is on the Ring Road, is a key transit point between Kabul and Kandahar City. The Taliban has now severed this main artery between the two major cities and other points south.

The Taliban began its offensive to restore its Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan on May 1 and swiftly began seizing key districts. More than 160 districts have fallen, in addition to an estimated 73 districts that were controlled by the Taliban before the offensive began.

After the Eid holiday at the end of July, the Taliban began its push to take the cities. In all, 10 of Afghanistan’s 34 provincial capitals have fallen to the Taliban in the past week. On Aug. 6, Zaranj, the capital of the southwestern province of Nimruz, was lost after the governor and security forces abandoned the city. The next day, on Aug. 7, the Taliban seized control of Shibirghan, the capital of the northern province of Jawzjan. The following day, on Aug. 8, the Taliban overran the capitals of Kunduz, Sar-i-Pul, and Takhar provinces, also in the north. On Aug. 9, the Taliban took control of Aybak in Samangan. The Taliban has also seized control of Farah City in Farah province and Pul-i-Khumri in Baghlan province in recent days.

The Taliban now controls 8 of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces in their entirety. The Taliban and al Qaeda are continuing their offensive to reestablish its Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan by sheer force of arms. The Afghan government, military and security forces seemingly have no answer for the Taliban onslaught.

Al Qaeda has deep roots in Ghazni

Al Qaeda has a long-established presence in Ghazni. FDD’s Long War Journal can trace al Qaeda operations in the province back to 2007-2008.

Aafia Siddiqui, dubbed “Lady al Qaeda” in the press, was among the al Qaeda figures captured or killed during raids in Ghazni in 2008. There have been multiple operations targeting al Qaeda in Ghazni since then.

Al Qaeda’s role in the fighting in Ghazni is referenced in the files recovered in Osama bin Laden’s compound. In a June 19, 2010 memo to bin Laden, Atiyah Abd al Rahman wrote that al Qaeda had “very strong military activity in Afghanistan.” Rahman, who served as bin Laden’s key lieutenant, listed Ghazni was one of eight provinces in which al Qaeda “groups” had been “the same for every season for many years now.” Rahman was killed in a drone strike the following year.

In subsequent letters that were also written in 2010, bin Laden ordered his operatives in northern Pakistan to relocate into Afghanistan. Ghazni was one of several provinces that the al Qaeda founder considered hospitable for his men. Operational evidence confirms that al Qaeda was still operating in Ghazni years later. For example, U.S. and NATO forces targeted two al Qaeda-associated insurgents in Ghazni in mid-2012.

In Feb. 2017, Afghan troops killed Qari Saifullah Akhtar, a senior al Qaeda leader who also doubled as the emir for Harakat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami (HUJI), a Pakistan-based terror group. Later that year, in Dec. 2017, the U.S. killed Omar Khetab (a.k.a. Omar Mansour), the “second senior leader” in Al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS), al Qaeda’s regional branch.

In Aug. 2018, Afghanistan’s defense minister claimed that foreign fighters were taking part in the Taliban’s offensive in Ghazni. A contemporaneous analysis published by a team of experts working for the United Nations Security Council pointed to al Qaeda’s active presence in the province.

In Mar. 2019, the Afghan military claimed it killed 31 AQIS fighters in the district of Giro. In June 2019, jihadist social media accounts announced the death in Ghazni of an AQIS fighter from Jammu and Kashmir. In Sept. 2019, Afghan forces raided a warehouse that AQIS used to house explosives for operations jointly conducted with Taliban.

In Oct. 2020, Afghan officials announced that Husam Abd-al-Ra’uf, a senior al Qaeda leader also known as Abu Muhsin al-Masri, had been killed in a raid in Ghazni. Al-Ra’uf’s demise was confirmed by senior U.S. officials. The native Egyptian had served in al Qaeda for decades and was part of the group’s senior hierarchy at the time of his death.

As the above timeline makes clear, a victory for the Taliban in Ghazni is a victory for al Qaeda.

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

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