Afghan forces battle Taliban in key city for third day

Taliban storms strategic Afghan cityMore

Afghan security forces keep watch at a checkpoint on the Ghazni highway, in Maidan Shar, the capital of Wardak province, Afghanistan August 12, 2018.

News of what exactly is happening in Ghazni, a provincial capital on the key road between Kabul and Kandahar, is hard to get after the militants damaged a telecommunications tower.

An army official in Kabul, Sharif Yaftali, told journalists Sunday that "strategic and key areas" of Ghazni are under control of the government but that insurgents had taken cover in populated areas, slowing efforts to drive them out.

"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.

Some sources said some shops were open in the central parts of Ghazni City and that the clashes are ongoing in western parts of the city. It said there had also been heavy Taliban casualties.

USA military headquarters in Kabul said sporadic clashes were occurring and American aircraft had conducted five strikes on Saturday and four more on Sunday.

The Taliban have contested several provincial capitals over the past few years, and generally speaking have launched smaller raids against security forces, trying to soften them up and challenge the defenses within, before making serious attempts to capture them outright.

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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".

The Ghazni attack appears to be a well-orchestrated and high-profile challenge to the government and its USA supporters.

Taliban representatives have met U.S. 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.

While little firsthand information was available from the city Sunday and most cellphone communication was cut off, social media showed videos of badly burned and damaged buildings.

Officials and residents told news agencies that the insurgents were attacking the police headquarters and other government buildings.

Local lawmaker Chaman Shah Ehtemadi told Reuters news agency: "Only the governor's office, police headquarters and intelligence agency's compound are in the hands of the government and Taliban are pushing to take them". Local television station 1TV says the number of fatalities has risen to more than 100, but there is no official confirmation.

Residents cowered in their homes or attempted to flee the fighting, as skyrocketing inflation hit basic provisions, according to residents and officials.

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