Taliban battles Afghan Special Forces and US Troops for control of Ghazni

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Taliban battles Afghan Special Forces and US Troops for control of Ghazni

A little bit of background for you first.  When my unit deployed to Afghanistan in 2004-2005 our Battalion was split up between roughly half doing force protection and quick reaction force in Bagram, and the other half being deployed to Ghazni and Wardak provinces.  So, basically two companies were handling two huge provinces.  We would roll into towns and people would come out and not know that there was anything going on and not understanding why Americans were even there.

At the time, FOB Ghazni was maybe 300 meters to a side, square, with a traffic control point that was maybe 100 meters long.  It had two guard towers, and the showers were so meager you could only shower once every week.  There was a provisional reconstruction team with us, but that was it.   And, this was for a city of over 200,000 people.

Nonetheless, it was fairly calm by Afghan standards.  I went back in 2010 for The American Legion Magazine and the base was probably tripled in size.  The Entry Control Point was pribably 500m long, and I couldn't even locate the original buildings we had used for about an hour.  But at that point we had turned the base over to the Polish troops who were handling it.  Now, they were excellent troops, but Polish political winds had changed, and so the garrison there was just hunkered down, not doing kinetic engagement and patrols.

So, when I went into Ghazni Province with a platoon of soldiers with the unit I was embedded with, we got hit less than 5 miles from the base, and right off Route 1, the road that circles the country, and basically ties Kabul in with the rest of the country.

Since then things haven't gotten better

The New York Times has an excellent piece on why Ghazni is so strategically important:

The siege of Ghazni is perhaps the most audacious example of a Taliban resurgence that has whittled the gains made after tens of thousands of American troops launched a campaign to oust them from power.

While not the first time Taliban fighters have invaded a major Afghan city in recent years, Ghazni’s strategic location is important. Its proximity to Kabul and location on the major highway connecting the capital to the south makes it a vital lifeline.

Rahmatullah Nabil, a former Afghan intelligence chief, said Ghazni also was important because some of its neighboring provinces border the tribal areas of northern Pakistan, where militants have long moved with impunity. Who controls Ghazni also impacts how freely the insurgents can move into other parts of the country, Mr. Nabil said. Taliban control of Ghazni also raises the possibility that Taliban eventually could surround Kabul itself.

As usual, if you want some key specifics, go to Long War Journal:

Earlier in 2017, Afghan forces killed Qari Saifullah Akhtar, a Pakistani al Qaeda leader, in the Nawa district of Ghazni. Akhtar, whose jihadist career began in the 1980s, worked for al Qaeda’s most senior leaders. He also commanded another group, Harakat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami (HUJI), which has long been affiliated with al Qaeda. Pakistani officials had released Akhtar from custody at least four times before he was hunted down in Afghanistan. The Nawa district, where Akhtar was killed, is a known Taliban safe haven. [For more on Akhtar, see FDD’s Long War Journal report: Afghan intelligence confirms top al Qaeda leader killed in raid.]

Years before these raids, Osama bin Laden and his lieutenants discussed al Qaeda’s ongoing operations in Ghazni. 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 one of my first patrols through the city of Ghazni we were travelling through a market when a run merchant approached us with the customary "my friend, my friend" and pointed us into his store.  We politiely declined, thinking he was just a guy trying to sell stuff to the troops, and no one could carry a rug with them on patrol.  It took only a few seconds to realize this guy was different.  For one thing he spoke pretty flawless English.  So we stopped and talked to him, and he told us he had graduated from the University of Nebraska, and only returned home to Ghazni because at the time it seemed safe to do so, and the future was looking up.

I really hope that guy has gotten out of there.  Because this is all manner of not good news for Afghans and those who live in Ghazni.


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News from the World of Military and Veterans Issues. Iraq and A-Stan in parenthesis reflects that the author is currently deployed to that theater.