Taliban fighters storm Afghanistan’s Ghazni, seize parts of city

Clay Curtis
August 12, 2018

Friday morning's assault on Ghazni was the latest in a string of attempts by the Taliban to overrun urban centers since the Afghan government called off a unilateral ceasefire with the militant group that was in place for Eid al-Fitr, the holiday marking the end of Islam's holy month of Rmadan.

The Taliban began the attack late Thursday from several positions around the city, provincial police chief Farid Ahmad Mashal told AFP.

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.

After repulsing the daring nighttime assault, police were conducting house-to-house searches for stragglers and to discover how the Taliban infiltrated so deep into Ghazni city, barely 120 km south of the Afghan capital of Kabul. He was anxious more wounded could be out there as the city was shut down and ambulances were not being sent out.

Mashal said there were more than 100 other casualties but could not give a breakdown of the dead and wounded. He did not say how many were dead and how many were wounded.

As helicopters circled overhead, a second government official said it was too risky for people to leave their homes and he had no immediate details on casualties.

Civilian houses and army checkpoints have come under mortar attack and the bodies of dozens of Taliban fighters are in the streets, he added.

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The Kabul-Ghazni highway was out of bounds for traffic and civilians during the clashes between the Taliban and government forces, the police said. "There has not been a single minute of silence for the last eight hours", said a senior government official in Ghazni early in the day.

Inside Ghazni city, residents were staying indoors making independent verification of the different claims impossible.

The US military's Resolute Support mission said it had deployed attack helicopters and a drone to help repel the Taliban from Ghazni, which has about 150,000 residents. With the outer defences breached, the insurgents seized control of several districts, advancing to within a few hundred metres of the governor's office and police headquarters.

In May, the Taliban attacked the western city of Farah.

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

As the USA and Taliban explore the next round of direct talks, attacks like the one Friday on Ghazni are a reminder of the pressure faced by Afghanistan's security forces.

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