Nearly 17 years after the war in Afghanistan first began, fighting still rages on between U.S.-backed forces and the ousted Taliban radicals who once sheltered al-Qaida terrorists.
Afghan government forces backed by U.S. airpower repelled a massive assault from Taliban militants on the provincial capital of Ghzani early Friday morning. Taliban forces rained down mortars on civilian houses and government buildings in the city in an attack on Afghan army and special forces units, as well as local police forces.
Electricity and telecommunications to the city were also cut off in the raging battle, prompting a city-wide lockdown.
“We are terrified”
A resident identified only by the name “Yasan” wrote on social media that the Taliban had seized control of a mosque and used the loudspeaker to warn residents to stay inside.
“Heavy explosions and gunfire can be heard,” Yasan wrote. “We are terrified.”
But it wasn’t long before U.S. forces in the region came to the aid of their Afghan allies, launching airstrikes on Taliban positions and providing close-air support as Afghan forces swept through the city. A tweet from the official account of U.S. Forces in Afghanistan read:
U.S. Forces responded with close-air support this morning in #Ghazni. Afghan forces held their ground and maintain control of all govt. centers. Another failed attempt by Taliban to seize terrain, while creating strategically inconsequential headlines.
— USForces Afghanistan (@USFOR_A) August 10, 2018
Shahhussain Murtazawi, a spokesman for Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, wrote in a social media post that “commando forces” were “on their way, and black hawks are hitting important enemy targets.”
He added that there were “heavy casualties” in the assault — mostly on the Taliban side — and downplayed likely-exaggerated reports from the Taliban that they had captured “most of the government buildings inside the city” and had killed or wounded upwards of “140 enemy forces.”
But a local police chief claimed there had only been around 100 casualties total, though it was unclear how many were wounded and if any were civilians. At least 39 bodies of Taliban fighters were discovered under a bridge on the southern edge of the besieged city by government forces who engaged in house-to-house searches to root out snipers and other fighters hiding among the civilian population.
Taliban attacks have become more frequent since 2014, when NATO operations in the Middle East wound down under direction of the Barack Obama administration, but Taliban forces have meanwhile faced increasing pressure to engage in peace talks with the Afghan government.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has even stated that the U.S. would be willing to “support, facilitate and participate” in such peace talks, a shift in the prior policy that insisted such talks must be solely between the Afghans and Taliban.
And there is still hope. Developing talks between the two groups led to an unprecedented temporary truce in June that halted fighting for a brief time, and there are reportedly ongoing talks of another ceasefire in time for an Islamic holiday near the end of August.
Still, it remains to be seen if anything will come of those talks — or if a lasting peace deal between the Afghans and Taliban will ever allow the U.S. and other allied forces to fully withdraw from the embattled region.