Why the Taliban’s Assault on Ghazni Matters for Afghanistan and the U.S.

KABUL, Afghanistan — The American-led invasion of Afghanistan routed Taliban extremists from energy after the terrorist assaults of Sept. 11, 2001. Nearly 17 years later, after tens of 1000’s of deaths, tons of of billions of spent and two White House administrations come and gone, these extremists should not solely undefeated however appear as robust as ever.

Since Friday, Taliban fighters have roamed the streets of Ghazni City, a strategic city middle lower than 100 miles from the capital, Kabul, killing dozens of Afghan troopers and law enforcement officials, chopping communications and severing the major freeway from Kabul to the south and past.

The Ghazni assault has demonstrated a surprising show of Taliban tenacity that belies the official Afghan and American narrative of progress in the battle and the chance for peace talks. It additionally has revealed outstanding bumbling by the Afghan army, together with the mistaken type of ammunition despatched to besieged law enforcement officials. Moreover, the siege has raised primary questions on what circumstances the Taliban would possibly settle for for peace talks.

What is occurring in Ghazni?

For months, residents and native officers in Ghazni, a metropolis of about 280,000 folks, had warned that the Taliban was surrounding the metropolis and making inroads of management. Taliban fighters had been even accumulating taxes in some areas. On a go to in June, I discovered the metropolis in worry — folks averted giant gatherings. Assassinations had been extra frequent.

On Aug. 10, greater than 1,000 Taliban fighters stormed the metropolis in a predawn assault. Officials declare the Taliban had been aided by overseas fighters, together with Pakistanis and Chechens, and even some Al Qaeda associates

The police had been pressured to retreat and defend the major authorities services — the governor’s workplace, the Police Headquarters, the intelligence compound, the major jail — leaving the Taliban assailants to entrench themselves elsewhere. The Afghan minister of protection on Monday stated that about 100 law enforcement officials and military troopers and extra 20 civilians had been killed. He put the variety of lifeless Taliban fighters at about 200.

Why does it matter?

The siege of Ghazni is probably the most audacious instance of a Taliban resurgence that has whittled the positive aspects made after tens of 1000’s of American troops launched a marketing campaign to oust them from energy.

While not the first time Taliban fighters have invaded a serious Afghan metropolis in recent times, Ghazni’s strategic location is necessary. Its proximity to Kabul and location on the main freeway connecting the capital to the south makes it a significant lifeline.

Rahmatullah Nabil, a former Afghan intelligence chief, stated Ghazni additionally was necessary as a result of a few of its neighboring provinces border the tribal areas of northern Pakistan, the place militants have lengthy moved with impunity. Who controls Ghazni additionally impacts how freely the insurgents can transfer into different components of the nation, Mr. Nabil stated. Taliban management of Ghazni additionally raises the chance that Taliban finally may encompass Kabul itself.

Is this an indication of Taliban power or authorities weak point?

In current years, as Afghan forces have largely taken possession of the battle from American forces, the Taliban have continued to realize territory. In some areas, they’ve struggled to carry a district or metropolis that they briefly entered, however in others they’re firmly embedded.

According to the United States army, the Afghan authorities controls simply over half of the nation’s almost 400 districts — about 56 p.c. Taliban insurgents management 14 p.c, and the remainder of the nation is contested.

A serious deterrent to additional Taliban positive aspects has been American and Afghan airstrikes. The United States army alone has dropped about three,000 bombs in the first six months of this 12 months. But air energy alone is inadequate.

Mr. Nabil stated the inner political struggles of the Afghan authorities and its incapacity to outthink the Taliban’s strikes earlier than insurgents invaded a metropolis had been underlying issues. He likened the Ghazni battle to the 2015 siege of Kunduz, when it took greater than two weeks for government-backed forces to retake the metropolis.

“It was like this in Kunduz also — they first went after the outlying districts, then military bases, and eventually they made it to the city,” Mr. Nabil stated. “Once the city is totally surrounded, entering inside the city becomes easy.”

How is the U.S. army concerned?

The United States maintains about 14,000 troops in Afghanistan; they play an advisory function to Afghan troops and help a small counterterrorism mission. That is down from the peak of about American 100,000 troopers in the nation, at a time when the American army was main the combat to defeat the Taliban in Afghan villages.

Military officers stated American advisers had been on the floor with Afghan forces in Ghazni. American forces even have performed about 25 airstrikes in the metropolis.

But very similar to the Afghan authorities, the United States army performed down the extent of the disaster, in assessments fully at odds with the info from the locals.

An announcement by the United States army stated, for instance, that the major freeway to the south remained open. But passengers on each side remained caught, and native Afghan officers stated the freeway was closed.

It is unclear what number of American troops are on the floor in Ghazni. But in cities similar to Farah and Kunduz — assaulted by Taliban militants in 2015, 2016 and this 12 months — the American army despatched groups of Army Special Forces to name in airstrikes and combat alongside their Afghan commando counterparts.

One American army official stated he wasn’t stunned by the assault on Ghazni. Turmoil between Ghazni’s Pashtun and Hazara tribes helped lay the basis for the assault by the predominantly Pashtun militants. Local tribal dynamics, he stated, is one purpose the Afghan authorities struggles to carry territory.

He added that these sorts of battles — heavy preventing in dispersed cities and small cities — had been prone to hold occurring effectively into the future, with American air energy usually performing as the deciding issue between victory and defeat.

To the west in Helmand Province, American troops are making ready for potential assaults on American and Afghan outposts due to issues that Taliban fighters could also be making ready to broaden their offensive in Ghazni.

How will this have an effect on peace talks with the Taliban?

For months now, a brand new, pressing push has been underway to steer the Taliban negotiate. Such efforts have failed earlier than, however now there are some necessary variations.

First, each side introduced a uncommon, overlapping cease-fire. Then, American diplomats met with Taliban representatives in Doha, Qatar, in what was seen as an icebreaker to ease the rebel group’s long-held demand that it might first discuss to the Americans with out Afghan authorities officers current.

The enhance in violence and the siege of Ghazni come at a time when the Afghan authorities and its worldwide companions have been pushing for a second cease-fire in coming weeks. Although the violence is unlikely to alter these plans, it does complicate the authorities’s effort to counter critics of the peace efforts.

Thomas Gibbons-Neff contributed reporting from Washington.

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