Afghan officials: Taliban attack eastern provincial capital Ghazni

Afghan officials: Taliban attack eastern provincial capital Ghazni

The Taliban launched an attack Friday on one of Afghanistan's key cities, seizing buildings and exchanging fire with security forces during an air and ground battle that led to US forces' assistance.

Terrified Ghazni residents cowered in their homes amid explosions and gunfire as security forces fought to beat the insurgents back.

Meanwhile, the Ministry of Defense said the Taliban attack on Ghazni City had been pushed back, with the attackers sustaining heavy casualties.

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.

It said around 150 attackers had been killed or wounded but gave no estimate of casualties for civilians or security forces.

A spokesman for US Forces in Afghanistan said the fighting had "ceased" Friday morning, hours after the insurgents began the assault late Thursday from several positions around the city.

Sporadic gunfire continued to echo amid intermittent clashes, with officials telling residents to stay in their homes as Taliban fighters roamed the streets.

A second government official said it was too risky for people to leave their homes and he had no immediate details on casualties.

Ghazni police chief General Farid Ahmad Mashal said the Taliban seized several parts of the city, which has been under threat for months with heavy fighting in surrounding districts.

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Chinese ambassador to Afghanistan Liu Jinsong said on Wednesday the level of distrust between the Afghan government and the Taliban is a key obstacle in the way of achieving peace in the country and that this issue has created serious challenges.

The US said that the city remained under government control.

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 Taliban frequently exaggerate their battlefield gains and downplay losses incurred during fighting.

The Taliban fighters set fire to the local TV building and also destroyed the telecommunications tower, located just outside the city, cutting all cellphone and land line access to Ghazni, said Ali Akbar Kasemi, a lawmaker from the city.

As fighting continued throughout the day, he said US forces returned, sending attack helicopters and fighter jets back to the area.

Taliban leaders have ignored an offer by the government of direct peace negotiations.

But Washington indicated a change in its longstanding policy in June when US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the United States was prepared to "support, facilitate and participate" in talks. "In addition, U.S. aircraft conducted a show of presence", Lt Col. Martin O'Donnell, spokesman for U.S. Forces-Afghanistan, said in an emailed statement.

Last month Taliban representatives met USA officials for talks in Qatar.

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