Sunday, 21 October, 2018

Taliban launches brazen attack on strategic Afghan city of Ghazni

The attack on Ghazni comes as the Taliban faces growing pressure to agree to peace talks with the Afghan government to end the 17-year war The attack on Ghazni comes as the Taliban faces growing pressure to agree to peace talks with the Afghan government to end the 17-year war
Deanna Wagner | 10 August, 2018, 19:11

The Taliban has attacked the eastern Afghan city of Ghazni, leaving dozens dead and wounding at least 100 before government troops forced the militants to retreat, officials said.

Residents who spoke to AFP said power has been cut to the area for hours since fighting erupted, with heavy gunfire ringing out across the city and a government building set on fire.

Lt. Col. Martin O'Donnell, a spokesman for US forces in Afghanistan, said that the insurgents had attacked "multiple government centers" in Ghazni, a populous city about 100 miles south of Kabul on a major national highway, but that they were driven back.

The attack around 80 miles south of Kabul was the militants' second all-out assault on a provincial capital this year and was one of their most audacious operations to date.

Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid said in a statement that hundreds of fighters armed with heavy and light weapons entered Ghazni city around 1 a.m. local time, capturing a number of strategic sites within the city and killing more than 140 Afghan soldiers.

At least 14 security forces were killed and 20 wounded in the battle, said Baz Mohammad Hemat, administrator of the Ghazni city hospital.

US forces "responded with close-air support" in Ghazni, while Afghan security forces "held their ground" and maintained control of all government buildings.

"The Taliban are dropping missiles near residential and commercial areas".

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Police officials told AP that dozens of Taliban fighters were killed by the airstrikes.

A spokesperson said the attack was "another failed Taliban attempt to seize terrain, which will result in yet another eye-catching, but strategically inconsequential headline".

Dead bodies of Taliban fighters remained on the street after the exchange, provincial police chief Farid Ahmad Mashal told the Associated Press news agency. Taliban militants and insurgents belonging to the other groups have been active in Ghazni province, and Taliban fighters captured a district there and killed its governor in April.

The insurgents have also so far ignored an offer by Ghani in February of unconditional peace negotiations.

The attack followed a similar assault on Farah in May, when fighters came close to overrunning the city in western Afghanistan.

But there are tentative signs that diplomatic efforts to kick-start talks are starting to bear fruit.

The Taliban has long insisted on direct talks with the United States. US and North Atlantic Treaty Organisation forces remain in Afghanistan mainly in a supporting and training role.

An unprecedented truce in June brought fighting between security forces and the Taliban to a temporary halt, giving war-weary Afghans some welcome relief from violence.