United States launches airstrikes as Taliban attack Afghan provincial capital Ghazni

Leroy Wright
August 11, 2018

Baz Mohammad Himmat, head of the civilian hospital in Ghazni, said at least 16 people had been killed in the melee, including 14 soldiers and two residents.

A brazen and bloody overnight assault Friday by the Taliban on a key provincial capital in central Afghanistan has increased pressure on US -backed Afghan forces that are withering under relentless attacks, prompting President Ashraf Ghani to call an emergency meeting of his security officials.

Officials said Afghan special forces were also being deployed to the southeastern city of Ghazni after the latest attempt by the Taliban to capture an urban centre, with the assault coming as pressure builds on the insurgents to enter peace talks.

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

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.

"We are scared for our life". Most of the casualties were Taliban, he said.

'Heavy explosions and gunfire can be heard. "We are terrified", Yasan wrote in a Facebook post.

Afghan soldiers fought back as the heavily-armed militants converged from four sides of the province, resulting in multiple casualties on all sides, Ghazni government spokesman Mohammad Arif Noori told CNN.

The Taliban frequently exaggerate their battlefield gains and downplay losses incurred during fighting. He said three Taliban had been killed and eight wounded.

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

Airstrikes called in to quash the offensive also killed dozens of Taliban, Mashal said.

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

The Taliban have stepped up attacks across the country since North Atlantic Treaty Organisation and the United States formally ended their combat mission in 2014.

He said China has always supported the issue of peace talks and that they "continue to facilitate the talks based on the principle of (it being) Afghan-led and Afghan-owned".

But there are tentative signs that diplomatic efforts to kick-start talks are starting to bear fruit. "In addition, US aircraft conducted a show of presence", Lt Col. Martin O'Donnell, spokesman for US Forces-Afghanistan, said in an emailed statement.

Secret talks were recently held in Qatar between Taliban and USA officials after an unprecedented three-day ceasefire during Eid celebrations in June that was largely respected by both sides.

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

A statement from USA military headquarters in Kabul said fighting had ceased by 8.00 a.m. (0330 GMT) and Afghan forces had held their ground and maintained control of all government centers.

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