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World

Taliban Attack Key Provincial Capital In Central Afghanistan

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Year after year after year, Afghanistan's Taliban finds some way to make their presence known. This summer, Taliban forces have been attacking a city called Ghazni. It's southwest of Kabul. It was the capital of an empire centuries ago. And now it's the city where the Taliban have killed at least 100 Afghan policemen and soldiers and as many as 30 civilians since Friday. Pamela Constable, of The Washington Post, has covered Afghanistan for years. She's on the line from Kabul. Hi, Pamela.

PAMELA CONSTABLE: Good morning.

INSKEEP: What kind of a city is Ghazni?

CONSTABLE: It's a very old, old city. As I think you mentioned, it was once the capital of an empire that stretched into present-day India. It is a place that has many old ancient historic sites, old towers, old ruins. It's sort of famous for that, although in recent years, obviously very few tourists have gone there. But I actually have seen them. You can see a couple of these old towers from the highway, which has now been blocked and then I guess unblocked by the Taliban.

It's not a huge city, but it's a densely populated city of about 270-280,000 people. It's an important city particularly because it's right on the major highway, which goes from Kabul and then heads south down to Kandahar, the major southern city. And that was rebuilt with a lot of American aid and opened with great fanfare a few years back. But it's now been the victim of many, many Taliban predations since then.

INSKEEP: Wow. And so now you have these crowded neighborhoods and these ancient sites, and you have fighting in and among them, right?

CONSTABLE: Indeed, indeed. And it's been - again, I haven't been there to see this, but I have been watching. Last, night, I watched a number of, you know, very dramatic videos that had been - I guess gotten out by social media and other ways - showing, you know, buildings on fire, showing markets collapsing, showing people running, showing hospital corridors full of what may either have been, you know, bodies or wounded victims - very much an overwhelmed and intimidated scene.

INSKEEP: As best you can determine because it's hard to get there, in what way are the Taliban attacking the city? Have they gone in with a consolidated force? Are there just terrorists running around, doing things? What exactly is happening?

CONSTABLE: Well, they appear to have attacked from several sides. They've been doing this in other cities recently. They seem to have gathered quite a large force, which reportedly includes not only Afghans but fighters from other countries. They are said to include Chechens and Pakistanis. Of course, we don't know this, but it's been reported that there are foreign forces there, as well. We know that they've sent people from a variety of provinces, not just the immediately surrounding area. So this is a very serious attack.

But it was a ground attack. It was not - no, they didn't have heavy, heavy weaponry. They went in - they were ground fighters who went in with their assault weapons. And, you know, they put on a show of force. They were not able to take over the whole city, but they were able to go in and stay in certain parts of the city. They attacked a number of important government buildings, were then driven back, I think attacked them again. And they have now been driven back. But they were able to sort of lodge themselves or bunker themselves in certain other residential and commercial neighborhoods, where I think there are still some fighters holed up.

INSKEEP: Very briefly, does the United States and its Afghan allies say they will be able to keep control of this city?

CONSTABLE: Yes. In fact, they've been saying that now for several days. And as things have gone more slowly than the government and the Americans hoped, they've been bringing in more reinforcements by ground. They've been doing more airstrikes with U.S. air power. And now they're sounding more confident that they will be able to get the city cleared very soon.

INSKEEP: Washington Post's Pamela Constable is in Kabul, Afghanistan. Thanks very much as always.

CONSTABLE: You're very welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.