The Afghan government said Saturday that it had re-established control over the eastern city of Ghazni after a day-long Taliban attack that left more than two dozen security forces dead.
“The city is under the complete control of Afghan security forces,” Major Mohammad Farqood, an Afghan National Army 203rd Corps spokesperson told The Defense Post in an emailed statement on Saturday, August 11.
“Afghan National Army reinforcements are making their way to Ghazni city to help the Afghan National Police search and clear the city of insurgents that may still be hiding in the city.”
Taliban fighters launched a major assault on the provincial capital from several directions late Thursday, its latest attempt to seize a major Afghan urban center.
Afghan special forces were deployed to the city, and U.S. forces carried out a drone strike early Friday and responded with close-air support, dispatching AH-64 Apache attack helicopters to the city.
The Apaches departed in the morning but returned soon afterwards, providing close-air support for Afghan forces in the mid-afternoon, U.S. Forces-Afghanistan spokesperson Lieutenant Colonel Martin L. O’Donnell told The Defense Post on Saturday.
A B-1 Lancer heavy bomber aircraft “conducted a show of presence,” O’Donnell added.
A spokesperson for Afghan President Ashraf Ghani said the Taliban had suffered heavy losses in the assault. Interior ministry spokesperson Najib Danish said Saturday that at least 150 insurgents were dead along with 25 security forces.
Afghan officials reclaimed control over Ghazni late Friday, but the Taliban said its fighters had “completely conquered [an Afghan Army batallion] in Ghazni,” and seized a load of weapons, ammunition and vehicles.
“Our mujahideen are protecting the city of Ghazni,” AFP reported Taliban spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid as saying in a message to journalists on Saturday. The Taliban frequently exaggerate territorial gains.
Information was difficult to obtain because the Taliban destroyed a telecommunications tower, cutting electricity and mobile phone service to the area.
A U.S. military spokesperson disputed the Taliban claim, saying the “Afghan National Army strongly and swiftly reinforced the Ghazni City after Afghan security thwarted yesterday’s Taliban attack.”
“The city was relatively quiet last evening and people were observed moving freely on the streets. That said, clearing operations are ongoing and we have received reports of sporadic clashes,” O’Donnell said Saturday.
“Tactically, operationally and strategically, the Taliban achieved nothing with this failed attack except another eye-catching, but inconsequential headline,” he added.
Ghazni – less than two hours by road from Kabul – has been under increasing danger from massing Taliban fighters for months, with reports suggesting insurgents had already infiltrated the city.
But Thursday’s assault comes ahead of a possible ceasefire announcement to coincide with the holiday of Eid-al Adha later this month.
The Taliban has so far not responded to Ghani’s offer of unconditional peace negotiations, but a brief and unprecedented ceasefire between government forces and the insurgents in June brought a temporary pause in fighting after decades of war. The three-day ceasefire saw celebrations as Taliban fighters hugged and posed for selfies with Afghan soldiers and prayed side-by-side with civilians.
But Ghazni MP Nafisa Azimi characterized the clashes on Saturday as “intense” and said the Taliban were trying to free prisoners from the city prison.
“Fear is spreading in Ghazni as the day ends, the Taliban might intensify their attack as it gets dark,” AFP reported Azimi as saying.
With reporting from AFP