Afghan forces battle Taliban in key city for third day

Sergio Conner
August 12, 2018

A Taliban attack on the Afghan city of Ghazni has entered its third day - with intense fighting and conflicting claims over who controls the strategic city.

By late Friday morning, at at least 16 people had been killed and many more injured. But details of the fighting were unclear as most of the city's telecoms masts were destroyed in fighting over recent days.

Taliban fighters stormed a provincial capital in Afghanistan before dawn on Friday, exchanging fire with security forces and reportedly leaving several dead. One lawmaker said that only the governor's office, the police headquarters and the intelligence police facility remained in government hands.

Taliban representatives have met United States officials to talk about the framework for possible peace talks and the government is considering offering a second ceasefire during the Eidul Azha holiday later this month.

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. Both were retaken by government forces after heavy fighting, but the near-takeovers by the Taliban gave the insurgent group a psychological boost.

The Red Cross said in a message on Twitter that it was watching the situation closely.

An Afghan National Army (ANA) soldier keeps watch at a checkpoint on the Ghazni highway, in Maidan Shar, the capital of Wardak province, Afghanistan August 12, 2018.

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

But people inside Ghazni say it has been overrun, with very little still under government control.

Short videos circulating on social media, purported to be from Ghazni, showed patrols by a number of heavily armed Taliban, with a large plume of smoke and flames coming out from the city.

"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 videos could not be independently verified but they generated heavy commentary by social media users that underlined the shock caused by the attack.

A US military spokesman said Sunday that American aircraft had conducted five airstrikes on Saturday and 10 on Sunday.

On Sunday, Lt Col Martin O'Donnell, US Forces Afghanistan spokesperson, said the Afghan army "continue to hold their ground and maintain control of all government centres". They hit the city from several points of ingress, attempting to overrun it and expel US -backed forces from the city.

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