Taliban launches brazen attack on strategic Afghan city of Ghazni

Smoke rises into the air after Taliban militants launched an attack on the Afghan provincial capital Ghazni

Smoke rises into the air after Taliban militants launched an attack on the Afghan provincial capital Ghazni

The Taliban have launched a major night-time assault on the Afghan city of Ghazni, a provincial capital on the key highway between Kabul and Kandahar.

USA forces launched airstrikes Friday, August 10, to counter a major Taliban assault on an Afghan provincial capital, where terrified residents cowered in their homes amid explosions and gunfire as security forces try to beat the insurgents back.

After fighting off the nighttime assault, police were conducting house-to-house searches and trying to work out how the Taliban infiltrated so deep into the city, which is barely 120km (75 miles) south of the Afghan capital of Kabul.

Khodad Urfani, a local member of parliament, said the city had been "on the verge of total collapse" before the Taliban were repelled.

US attack helicopters aided Afghan forces and there was a drone strike, he added.

A spokesperson said the attack was "another failed Taliban attempt to seize terrain, which will result in yet another eye-catching, but strategically inconsequential headline".

"So far 140 enemy forces have been killed or wounded", the group said.

Defense ministry spokesman Mohammad Radmanish said the army helped the police and the city was under control of government forces.

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

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

Earlier this year the Taliban briefly took the western city of Farah, and for periods in both 2015 and 2016 the militants overran Kunduz, in the north. After a day of intense fighting, Afghan commandos and United States air strikes drove the group to the outskirts of the city.

The brazen assaults by the Taliban, who have been gaining more ground in their annual spring offensive and who have shrugged off the government's latest offers of a cease-fire and negotiations, underscore the difficulties Afghan forces face in battling the relentless insurgency on their own in efforts to end the almost 17-year war.

But there are tentative signs that diplomatic efforts to kick-start talks are starting to bear fruit. Washington has repeatedly refused, saying negotiations must be Afghan-led.

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.

The Taliban have so far failed to take and hold any provincial center since they overran the northern city of Kunduz in 2015 before being driven off with the support of USA air strikes and Special Forces units.

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

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