Taliban fighters mounted a brutal attack in eastern Afghanistan Friday, killing at least 100 civilians, torching dozens of homes and beheading as many as 15 people. The beheadings reportedly targeted people with familial ties to local and national police and came amid a weeklong offensive. The Taliban attacks focused on strategic points in Ghazni province, an important gateway to the capital, Kabul.
Ghazni’s deputy governor, Ahmadullah Ahmadi, said 700 Taliban fighters were involved in the weeklong attacks that also targeted police checkpoints and headquarters. Taliban fighters hit a police checkpoint with a car bomb and have mined the roads around the areas they control. A Taliban spokesman denied they were beheading anyone. Beheadings are unusual in Afghanistan, but have been part of Taliban campaigns in the past designed to intimidate the families of Afghan troops and security forces.
The deputy police chief in Ajrestan said Thursday urgent help from the central government was needed. A day later, it appeared that the district had fallen. The government sent military reinforcements early Friday, according to AFP. Ahmadi said he requested helicopters from the central government but “so far nothing has been done.”
Ajrestan is about 60 miles from Ghazni’s capital of the same name, which sits along a major road leading to Kabul, where President Hamid Karzai was preparing to hand over power to Presidential-elect Dr. Ashraf Ghani this weekend. The handover comes after months of political strife prompted by widespread election fraud. The Taliban stepped up attacks around Afghanistan following a contested presidential election to take advantage of political uncertainty and popular dissatisfaction. Ghani will assume power on Monday.
Ghazni would provide the Taliban with an important strategic base to launch attacks on Kabul.