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World

Taliban Launches Major Attack On Afghan City Of Ghazni, Leaving Civilians Trapped

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

In Afghanistan, a quarter of a million people are caught up in a fight between government forces and Taliban fighters. A quarter of a million is roughly the population of the city of Ghazni, where the Taliban launched an attack on Friday, an attack that is still underway. Ghazni is critical because it's on the main highway connecting the capital city of Kabul with the south of the country.

The fight there is evidence of the persistence of the Taliban in Afghanistan, a country where the U.S. has now been at war for nearly 17 years. In a moment, we'll hear from New York Times war correspondent C.J. Chivers about how the current battle fits into the arc of that war.

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

First a voice from Afghanistan. I spoke today with the BBC's Shoaib Sharifi, who has been tracking the Ghazni developments today from Kabul.

SHOAIB SHARIFI: The official line from the Afghan Security Forces is they have made major developments. They may kick the Taliban fully out of the city in 24 hours. And it's the same official line from the American military. But eyewitnesses, people who have managed to escape the city - they say the Taliban are still resisting in various parts of the inner city. So it doesn't seem that very soon the Taliban may leave the area.

But what is clear - even the Taliban know that they cannot hold this town here. They're not here to hold this city. They have shown in the last four days that their aim is to inflict heavy casualties and harm on security forces. And they are showing that if there are any peace talks, they are coming from a position of power.

KELLY: You nodded to the role that the U.S. is playing here. U.S. aircraft are launching strikes. There are some U.S. advisers on the ground there. It speaks to a situation very much in flux. Do we know how many civilians are trying to leave the city at this point or what the situation is for those who remain?

SHARIFI: Humanitarian situation is on the verge of crisis. In fact, the U.N. humanitarian agency expressed concern, saying up to 270,000 people are stuck. For the four day now, there have been no running water, no electricity, no means of communication. And the one and only hospital in the city - in fact our reporter who managed to leave the town just arrived, said that the hospital is overwhelmed by the number of casualties. And they're almost refusing because there's no more space for the wounded and dead bodies.

And people who are leaving - they say they have seen dead bodies on the sides of the road, and people can't stop because of the fear of the attacks or being caught in the crossfire. So it shows that people are in immediate, urgent need of emergency assistance because they have been blocked for four days now.

KELLY: This does not sound at all like a Taliban on the run, like a Taliban in retreat. And as you nodded to, this is just the latest attempt by the Taliban to try to capture and then hold a city. What does this tell us about the prospects on whether they may be dimming for peace talks in the future?

SHARIFI: Well, it - emphasis is on the point that they - the problem, current crisis in Afghanistan - the conflict cannot be won militarily both by the Afghan government and the Taliban. They know they cannot hold it long enough, and security forces know that they cannot get rid of the Taliban militarily. And the one and only solution that can bring an end to Afghan conflict is through making the Taliban sit on negotiation table.

KELLY: That's the BBC's Shoaib Sharifi reporting there on the grim and still-unfolding fight for the battle of Ghazni in Afghanistan. Mr. Sharifi, thanks so much.

SHARIFI: Thank you very much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.