KABUL, Afghanistan – Taliban insurgents in Afghanistan have taken over most of the rural areas in Ghazni Province, even as they continue to battle the government for control of the provincial capital, according to local officials and residents.
While attention in the past four days has focused primarily on the fight for Ghazni city, where the Taliban appear to control most neighborhoods, the insurgents have also taken over at least four more rural districts in the province, mostly without much of a fight. They have also consolidated their authority in other districts, as local government officials fled.
By Monday, only two of the province's 18 rural districts were confirmed to be completely in government control, raising the prospect that if the insurgents did fully take the city, they might also be in a position to control an entire province for the first time in the 17-year war in Afghanistan.
In the city, government forces, supported by U.S. military airstrikes and some U.S. ground forces, continued to hold government buildings, the police headquarters and prison, and military bases. Officials and residents disputed Taliban claims that those facilities had fallen Monday, but residents described the government buildings as under constant attack, and Taliban fighters as in apparent charge of most neighborhoods throughout the city.
Some residents fled, but most remained in their homes. "For three days now, our home has been the battlefield of the Taliban and we are living amid smoke and gunfire," said Mohammad Halim, whose house is close to the city center, with its government buildings. "If we stay here, we will starve."
Shops and businesses were closed and the U.N. acting humanitarian coordinator in Kabul, Rik Peeperkorn, warned of an approaching crisis. "Vital telecommunications networks and the electricity supply are down in the city of 270,000 people," which affects the water supply, and food is running low, he said.
On Sunday, the director of the hospital in Ghazni, Baz Mohammad Hemat, said that 113 bodies had been brought there over the three days since the fighting started, mostly uniformed members of security forces, as well as 142 wounded.
While government officials insisted that they had the city under control and were carrying out "clearance operations" against Taliban hiding places, residents said there were no signs of a serious counterattack from the Afghan military.
Gen. Mohammad Sharif Yaftali, the army chief of staff, said "the reason for slow operations is to prevent civilian casualties and financial losses to the residents." He added that roads would be reopened and that the city would return to full government control by Tuesday.