Published: Sun, August 12, 2018
Global News | By Blake Casey

Taliban fighters storm Afghan city before security forces hit back

Taliban fighters storm Afghan city before security forces hit back

While pressure has been building for peace talks between the Western-backed government in Kabul and the Taliban insurgency, USA officials say Islamic State's branch in Afghanistan is not part of any reconciliation push and instead must be wiped out. In May, insurgents overran the western city of Farah, but they left a day later amid counterattacks from the Afghan government and American airstrikes.

But with Taliban fighters believed to be hiding in residential areas, it was unclear whether the government had full control of the city, with communications badly hit after a number of telecoms installations were destroyed.

Owing to the increasing instability in Ghazni province, Afghanistan's Independent Election Commission recently deferred the upcoming parliamentary polls in the area.

Capturing Ghazni even briefly would symbolically cut Afghanistan's second city of Kandahar off from the country's capital.

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

Among the injured were four Afghan troops who were hurt when their helicopter crash-landed during the fighting, said Defense Ministry spokesman Mohammad Radmanish. "There has not been a single minute of silence for the last eight hours", said a senior government official in Ghazni.

Local residents said Taliban fighters were walking openly in the streets in parts of the city.

The attacks began around 2 a.m. with intense gunbattles raging and fires burning in several shops in Ghazni city.

The ongoing violence came amid the release of a United Nations report stating the number of Afghan civilians killed in the first six months of this year has reached a record high.

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

But the USA indicated a change in its longstanding policy in June when Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the United States was prepared to "support, facilitate and participate" in talks.

The Taliban also suffered heavy losses, he said. Afghan officials said only one of its fighters was confirmed killed, but a Taliban spokesman said 140 enemy forces were dead.

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid claimed parts of the city had been seized and scores of people killed.

US officials disputed the claim, saying there were "minimal Afghan security force casualties". Air strikes called in to quash the offensive also killed dozens of Taliban, he said.

US attack helicopters and drone aircraft provided government forces with air support.

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

Anticipation has also been mounting about the possibility of a government ceasefire announcement for the Islamic holiday of Eid-al Adha later this month.

However, there are tentative signs that diplomatic efforts to bring the insurgents to the table for peace talks may be starting to bear fruit.

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