Defense

US Downplays Insurgency As Wave Of Taliban Assaults Kills Hundreds Of Afghan Soldiers

ANWAR DANISHYAR/AFP/Getty Images

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Will Racke Immigration and Foreign Policy Reporter
  • The Pentagon says a four-day Taliban assault on a key Afghan city has failed.
  • More than 100 Afghan troops were killed in the attack on Ghazni city, but the Taliban did not achieve any long-term gain, according to U.S. military spokesman Lt. Col. Martin O’Donnell.
  • However, some observers dispute the U.S. military’s rosy assessment, noting that large sections of the city still appear to contested or under Taliban control.

U.S. military officials are downplaying the significance of a massive Taliban assault on a key provincial capital over the weekend, arguing the attack had failed despite inflicting heavy losses on Afghan security forces.

More than 100 Afghan soldiers and police have been killed since Friday in Ghazni, a strategically valuable city about 75 miles south of Kabul. Afghan troops backed by U.S. forces have retained control of key government buildings, but Taliban fighters were still roaming the city on Monday afternoon, hiding in residential areas and using civilian homes as command posts. (RELATED: More Than 100 Afghan Security Forces Killed In Four-Day Battle With Taliban)

Even as fighting stretched beyond the weekend, the Pentagon dismissed concerns that the brazen Taliban attack on a provincial capital was a setback for the U.S.-backed Afghan government.

“Tactically, operationally and strategically, the Taliban achieved nothing with this failed attack except another eye-catching, but inconsequential headline,” Lt. Col. Martin O’Donnell, the spokesman for U.S. Forces Afghanistan, told CBS News on Monday. “The fact remains that the Taliban are unable to seize terrain and unable to match the Afghan security forces or our enablement, retreating once directly and decisively engaged.”

But some Afghanistan observers disputed the Pentagon’s claim that the Afghan government is in full control of Ghazni city. Bill Roggio, a senior fellow at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, noted that photos of the Ghazni operation posted to the U.S.-led coalition’s Twitter account only show Afghan troops on the outskirts of the city, not in contested areas closer to the city center.

“By all accounts, the Taliban control large areas of the city and are besieging the government-held buildings,” Roggio wrote Monday in FDD’s Small Wars Journal. “While the situation in Ghazni is extremely difficult to assess, it is clear the Afghan government is not in full control of the city, as Resolute Support has claimed.”

This weekend’s attack was a bloody reminder of the Taliban’s capacity to launch multi-pronged attacks against Afghan security forces at will. As in previous Taliban assaults on Farah and other cities, the insurgents were only stalled and driven away after U.S. commandos and air assets were called in to reinforce Afghan troops. (RELATED: The Taliban Almost Took Over An Afghan City, Proving It’s Far From ‘Losing Ground’)

Ghazni was not the only site of coordinated Taliban attacks over the weekend. Elsewhere in Afghanistan, insurgents assaulted multiple army positions, leaving dozens of troops dead and wounded.

In the Ajristan District of Ghazni province, about 90 miles west of the provincial capital, the Taliban overran an elite commando unit that was defending the area. It was not immediately clear how many soldiers were killed, but the Afghan defense ministry estimated the death toll to be between 40 and 100 as of Sunday morning.

In northwestern Faryab Province, the Tailban attacked a remote Afghan National Army outpost of 100 soldiers in a pre-dawn assault on Sunday. More than half of the troops defending base the were either killed or wounded, The New York Times reported, citing Afghan army commanders on the scene.

Still, the Taliban’s attempt to take Ghazni, a city of about 275,000 people, is particularly worrisome for the Afghan government. If the city were to fall into Taliban hands, it would cut off a major corridor linking Kabul with Afghanistan’s southern provinces, the traditional home of the insurgency.

Ghazni province has been heavily contested in recent years, but the weekend assault marked the first time the Taliban has attempted to seize the provincial capital.

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