Sunday 24 March 2019
News ID: 56151
Publish Date: 10 August 2018 - 21:31

GHAZNI, Afghanistan (Dispatches) -- Afghan forces launched a clearing operation Friday, searching for Taliban fighters following a major assault on the southeastern city of Ghazni.
Afghan special forces were deployed to Ghazni after the latest attempt by the Taliban to capture an urban center, with the assault coming as pressure builds on the insurgents to enter peace talks.
Ghazni - less than two hours by road from Kabul - has been under threat from massing Taliban fighters for months, with residents saying the complex nature of the attacks was unprecedented in its scale.
A spokesman for U.S. Forces in Afghanistan said the fighting had "ceased" as of Friday morning, hours after the insurgents began the assault late Thursday from several positions around the city.
However, sporadic gunfire continued to echo into the afternoon amid intermittent clashes, with officials telling residents to stay in their homes as scattered Taliban fighters roamed the streets.
Power has been cut to the area since fighting erupted.
Earlier, residents described heavy gunfire ringing out and government buildings set on fire during bouts of tense fighting. "We are scared for our lives. The Taliban are roaming everywhere in and around the city," shopkeeper Muhammad Haleem said.
Another resident, Yasan, said the Taliban were using loudspeakers at the mosque to warn residents to stay in their homes. "Heavy explosions and gunfire can be heard. We are terrified," Yasan wrote in a Facebook post.
Civilian houses and army checkpoints came under mortar attack and the bodies of dozens of Taliban fighters were in the streets, provincial governor spokesman Arif Noori said.
The U.S. said that the city remained under government control.
Baz Muhammad Himmat, head of the civilian hospital in Ghazni, said at least 16 people had been killed in the fighting, including 14 soldiers and two residents.
A spokesman for President Ashraf Ghani said the Taliban had suffered heavy casualties in the onslaught and confirmed the airstrikes.
Police special forces have also been deployed to help block the Taliban advance, an Afghan security official said.
The Taliban issued a statement claiming to have captured "most of the government buildings inside the city", and that they killed and wounded 140 security forces.
Afghan forces have been struggling to hold back the resurgent militant group. In May, the Taliban attacked the western city of Farah.  
The group has so far ignored President Ashraf Ghani's offer of unconditional peace negotiations even though its representatives met U.S. officials in Qatar last month.
The U.S. had dismissed direct negotiations with the Taliban before but in a change of policy, its Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in June that Washington was prepared to "support, facilitate and participate" in talks.

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