Heavy fighting in Ghazni as Afghan forces battle Taliban

Zakeria Hashimi—AFP

The battle extended into the day, and USA forces eventually sent air support to bolster Afghan security forces - this meant close air support (attack helicopters) and one drone strike.

Taliban militants launched an attack Friday on the Afghan provincial capital of Ghazni.

Mohammad Sharif Yaftali, Afghan army chief of staff, said on Sunday the city was not under threat of collapse and heavy fighting was under way to push back the Taliban from city limits.

The attack on Ghazni, which controls a vital highway between the capital Kabul and southern Afghanistan, has given the insurgents their highest profile success since they came close to taking the western city of Farah in May.

USA military headquarters in Kabul said sporadic clashes were occurring and American aircraft had conducted five strikes on Saturday and four more on Sunday. "We have not witnessed such a large scale attack by the Taliban before", said Andar.

"By joining the group, the Taliban in Badghis are weaker and will no longer have the power to fight against the government forces", said Abdul Rahim a member of parliament.

The attacks began in the earliest hours of the morning - around 2:00 a.m. - and the town was littered with gunfire and fires.

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"The Afghan National Defence and Security Forces continue to hold their ground and maintain control of all government centers", Lt Col Martin O'Donnell, U.S. Forces Afghanistan spokesman, said in an emailed statement.

The Ghazni attack appears to be a well-orchestrated and high-profile challenge to the government and its USA supporters.

The onslaught was the latest attempt by the Taliban to overrun an urban centre and comes as pressure increases on the armed group to begin peace talks with the government to end the almost 17-year-old war. Officials had hoped for a second truce later this month during the Eid al-Adha holiday, but that seems unlikely. Some videos appeared to show government security forces surrendering with their weapons.

Local lawmaker Chaman Shah Ehtemadi told Reuters news agency: "Only the governor's office, police headquarters and intelligence agency's compound are in the hands of the government and Taliban are pushing to take them".

There were no confirmed reports on casualty numbers, but one Afghan TV channel quoted hospital officials as saying that more than 90 members of the security forces and 13 civilians had been killed, as well as an unknown number of Taliban fighters.

There are also reports the road outside the city has been mined, making it hard for residents to escape.

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