Riots in Ghazni City as the Province Falls

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by Joshua Foust on 9/10/2009 · 22 comments

Ghazni Province is falling to the Taliban. There’s no two ways around it: Radio Shariat is transmitting in the area again, and security forces are having a hard time tracking it down because apparently it is being broadcast on a mobile transmitter. Now Tim Lynch reports on a riot in Ghazni City itself:

“The demonstrators moved towards Masoud Chowk area, and the demonstration turned violent. Demonstrators reportedly began throwing stones at ANSF, and ANSF opened fire. The demonstration has apparently dispersed due to the said clash. Casualties have occurred, and initial reports suggest that 4 demonstrators were killed and 8 were wounded.”

Indeed. The people were apparently protesting in response to the abduction and murder of Shams al-Din, a popular anti-American cleric in the eastern part of the province. Naturally, the men who abducted him from Abu Hanifa mosque weren’t identified. The protesters were, according to Press TV, specifically anti-American protesters, assuming the U.S. to be responsible for al-Din’s death.

But here’s an interesting angle to consider as well. Alex Strick van Linschoten tweets of a growing incidence of men getting killed by “Afghans dressed like Americans and pretending to speak in English” in Kandahar. While that sounds bizarre, it might also be more than simple mimicry-of-whomever-seems-scariest: if you as the Taliban can start credibly blaming all bad things on the foreigners, then you are that much closer to kicking them out of your country for good.

There’s no way to know if that’s what is going on in Ghazni. There is almost no media presence there, save the occasional Pajhwok one-liner, and non-essential units are starting to avoid the area (one friend told me the special forces there are advising non-SOF groups to stay away because of the danger). Without more information, we don’t know for certain how things are shaping up in the province as a whole, but given how many districts had zero voting during the elections (reportedly 11), it’s pretty clear the Taliban are claiming the province bit by bit.

Photo courtesy Tim Lynch.

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– author of 1848 posts on 17_PersonNotFound.

Joshua Foust is a Fellow at the American Security Project and the author of Afghanistan Journal: Selections from His research focuses primarily on Central and South Asia. Joshua is a correspondent for The Atlantic and a columnist for PBS Need to Know. Joshua appears regularly on the BBC World News, Aljazeera, and international public radio. Joshua's writing has appeared in the Columbia Journalism Review, Foreign Policy’s AfPak Channel, the New York Times, Reuters, and the Christian Science Monitor. Follow him on twitter: @joshuafoust

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IntelTrooper September 10, 2009 at 6:39 pm

Another success story for the 101st.

IntelTrooper September 10, 2009 at 6:52 pm

Sorry, that was unfair. Give the credit to our allies, the Poles.

Joshua Foust September 11, 2009 at 6:35 am

Agreed. But the 101st didn’t exactly make things better there. We’ll see if the new TF coming in does anything to help in the north.

Helena Cobban September 10, 2009 at 7:41 pm

Joshua, can you specify for readers (1) what it actually means that you say the whole province is falling to the Taliban, and (2) what this means for the broader balance of power throughout the country.

Thanks! ~H

Joshua Foust September 11, 2009 at 6:24 am

Helena, You got it!

1) The number of districts where civilians no longer work has steadily increased, and the number of firefights CF gets into is much much greater than it was even earlier this year.

2) Not sure about the broader BOP. Ghazni lies along Highway 1, so it has strategic value… but the Soviets let the mujahidin have most of the province in the 1980s to little strategic effect on their logistics. So I don’t know yet about that one.

nir rosen September 10, 2009 at 10:02 pm

i feel a little vindication here

Joshua Foust September 11, 2009 at 6:22 am

That’s fair. But let’s recap: things now are not at all what they were when you reported there last summer. As recently as April, you could walk around Ghazni City with relatively little issue. True, there were districts like Andar or Nawa that were bad, but they weren’t 2/3 of the districts in the province. SOF guys weren’t warning civilians to avoid the entire area, including FOBs.

I still wouldn’t have agreed with you that as of last August Ghazni was under the control of the Taliban. But it is becoming more and more so now. So you were right to be raising the flag about it.

Toryalay Shirzay September 10, 2009 at 11:08 pm

One can see things are getting out of control here and there.Under these conditions ,it’s best to be blunt about it: hey US/NATO, if you keep playing mr.nice guy with islamic fascists in Afghanistan,you will not only feel pain in the rear ,you will also end up being the butt of jokes the world over.Now think about it and think hard!

Turgai Sangar September 11, 2009 at 3:01 am

🙂 Well, the steamroller approach of the Red Army in the eigthies did not proved particularly succesful either…

dennis September 11, 2009 at 12:55 pm

will the Taliban must pay better. and have a better work program.

steve September 11, 2009 at 2:01 pm

nir, do you have any good outtakes from that Ghazni story you wrote? material your editor might have deleted in favor of more, um, ‘dramatic’ elements of the story? in that story you set the reader up to expect some analysis or observation of taliban ‘governance’ in ghazni, but i, for one, came away disappointed. that would’ve been a first for any magazine, to document taliban methods of maintaining power or support not reliant on violence and coercion (if it exists). so i guess i’m asking: does it exist? did you actually see it? if so, what does it look like?

Toryalay Shirzay September 11, 2009 at 9:47 pm

The US/NATO are facing the same problem which the Soviets faced in the eighties.None of them know how to effectively fight the islamic fascists in Afghanistan.This is the crux of the matter.

Turgai Sangar September 12, 2009 at 5:36 am

What is the way out for you then?

Turgai Sangar September 12, 2009 at 5:36 am

What is the way out for you then?

Old Blue September 12, 2009 at 12:58 am

I echo Steve’s disappointment with Rosen’s Rolling Stone article. I would also be interested in knowing if there was more actual meat that was culled in favor of sensationalism. When I contrast it with Ghaith Abdul Ahad’s “embed” with the Taliban it is like night and day.

Abdul Ahad’s depiction is also recognizable as Afghanistan, and actual Taliban behavior. Rosen’s view was very narrow and dark, like looking through a toilet paper tube into a dimly lit space. While I did not doubt Rosen’s experience of being trundled about and having his fate determined by a Taliban commander, it was a misadventure rather than a substantive revelation of, “This is how the Taliban works, what it is thinking, and how it attempts to delegitimize the government as it seeks to replace it with its own services. Contrast this with Abdul Ahad’s very accurate description of the Taliban court system and where it fits in their strategy.

Rosen touched on none of this; but it would be interesting to know if he originally wrote about it and an editor later removed it.

On a separate note, it has been pointed out that even the local ANSF equate the Poles with Russians… not because of their behavior so much as their ethnicity, the weapons they carry (Kalashnikovs) and some of the vehicles they use. They look and sound very much like Russians. Perhaps the Poles could be more helpful up north where some of the provinces did not have as deep a hatred for the Russians, such as in Dostum’s old neighborhood.

While it seems to be widely accepted that the 101st was fouling things up here in Afghanistan, it is perhaps more helpful to acknowledge where past behaviors have put us behind the power curve; but time starts now. Never before in Afghanistan has the emphasis been on pop-centric COIN. There will be stumbles, fits and starts… but now the emphasis is moving. This is not a joke, not from what I’m seeing. If a journalist really wants to be on the edge, now is the time to observe the painful rebirth of a mission.

As I say this, over a hundred civilians are receiving COIN and stabilization training early in their deployments only yards away. They are being taught tools that have never been used here, much less by civilians. If Rosen, or anyone else wanted to get a grip on the changing reality, they would be here with them tracking the trials and tribulations of turning this huge ship in a new direction.

dennis September 12, 2009 at 2:13 pm

will today’s news is not any better.there maybe more riots. there an elsewhere. more soldiers have died today. the news media will fan the flames for us to pull out of Afghanistan. one us soldier was shot by a ANP.for drinking water.( hang head down.)

sağlık September 13, 2009 at 8:00 am

What is the way out for you then?

Turgai Sangar September 13, 2009 at 12:13 pm


David M September 14, 2009 at 9:58 am

The Thunder Run has linked to this post in the blog post From the Front: 09/14/2009 News and Personal dispatches from the front and the home front.

Anand Gopal September 15, 2009 at 9:08 am

As someone who has traveled regularly to Ghazni in the last two years (unembedded) I can say for sure there has been no real change in the extent of Taliban presence or control in recent times. By last year, the Taliban had saturated the Pashtun districts, leaving just the Hazara areas, some district capitals and the provincial capital. That’s essentially how it is today. The picture that Nir Rosen gave last year is very close to the situation on the ground today.

In a formal sense, Ghazni province is not in danger of falling to the Taliban since they won’t be able to overrun Ghazni City. But substantively speaking, Ghazni (and Khost, Paktika, Wardak, Kandahar, Helmand, Uruzgan, and Zabul) are under de-facto Taliban control–pretty much every Pashtun area is under their control except for the district and provincial capitals. There are some exceptions, such as Arghandab and parts of Khost, but for the most part they operate freely outside of the capitals.

Joshua Foust September 15, 2009 at 11:29 am


Thanks for the response. But I’m curious about something: people—civilians, aid workers, and so on—were okay, safe even, traveling to Ghazni in 2007. Maybe not Nawa, but more northerly Pashtun areas were still permissible. Earlier this year, there were no travel warnings against Army civilians traveling to places like Esfandiya.

There is now. Ghazni may have been dangerous, and definitely harbored Taliban, two years ago, but it is unquestionably more dangerous, more under their sway, and more anti-American now.

Also, help me out: Rajiv Chandrasekaran just described Arghanadab as a Taliban stronghold in Kandahar. Are you saying it’s really not, and the area is not controlled by them?

Anand Gopal September 15, 2009 at 5:29 pm

Hi Joshua,

If army civilians have more travel restrictions on them there this year compared to last, then perhaps you are right that it’s even more dangerous now. But on the other hand, there’s been very little change in the accessibility guidelines for NGOs in the last year. NGOs can’t operate in the rural Pashtun areas without the negotiated consent of the Taliban, which was the case by late 2007.

I remember that in the spring of 2008 I visited a number of provinces there and they were all completely under the Taliban’s sway. I had interviewed people from every district in the province and found that every single Pashtun-dominated district had a fully functional Taliban shadow government and the fighters patrolled openly. In some places (such as Khwaja Umari) that are mixed, the Taliban dominated the Pashtun parts only.

So it’s possible that the insurgents have increased their kinetic activity, making it more dangerous, but have maintained a constant footprint since early 2008.

re: Arghandab: I don’t believe it is fully under Taliban control. There’s a strong Alokazay presence there that mitigates the Taliban influence to an extent. The insurgents have now made it up to the river, from what I understand, but they still don’t operate openly in the day in most parts of the district. While there are plenty of insurgents there, I wouldn’t call it a “Taliban stronghold.” But I haven’t been there since May, so I’d be happy to defer to someone with a more up-to-date appraisal.

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