Afghan Forces Aided By U.S. Air Power Repel Major Taliban Assault


Afghan Forces Aided By U.S. Air Power Repel Major Taliban Assault

U.S. Central Command commander Gen. Jospeh Votel testifies at the Senate Committee on Armed Services on Capitol Hill in Washington

U.S. Central Command commander Gen. Jospeh Votel testifies at the Senate Committee on Armed Services on Capitol Hill in Washington

The attack underlines the heavy losses still being suffered by security forces as they fight the Taliban insurgents.

Several bodies of dead Taliban fighters remained on the street after Afghan forces pushed the militants from Ghazni, Mashal said.

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, underscored the difficulties Afghan forces face in battling the relentless insurgency on their own in efforts to end the almost 17-year war. The attack on a strategic city straddling the main route between the capital Kabul and southern Afghanistan demonstrated the Taliban's strength amid increased speculation about a possible ceasefire during the Eid religious holiday this month.

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said parts of the city had been seized by the Taliban and many people were killed.

Police special forces have also been deployed to help block the Taliban advance on the city, an Afghan security official said.

The Taliban issued a statement claiming to have captured "most of the government buildings inside the city", and claiming to have killed and wounded 140 security forces.

"Initial reports indicate minimal Afghan security force casualties", the United States spokesman told AFP, adding that American forces deployed attack helicopters and conducted a drone strike in the response.

A second government official said it was too unsafe for people to leave their homes and he had no immediate details on casualties.

Another resident, Yasan, said the Taliban were using loudspeakers at the mosque to warn residents to stay in their homes. "There has not been a single minute of silence for the last eight hours", said a senior government official in Ghazni early on Friday.

The Taliban began the attack late Thursday from several positions around the city, provincial police chief Farid Ahmad Mashal told AFP.

The US said that the city remained under government control. The US disputed that figure, saying initial reports indicated there were "minimal Afghan security force casualties". "Another failed attempt by Taliban to seize terrain, while creating strategically inconsequential headlines", it continued.

The attack on Ghazni comes as the Taliban faces growing pressure to agree to peace talks with the Afghan government to end the 17-year war.

The insurgents have also so far ignored an offer by Ghani in February of unconditional peace negotiations.

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 US air strikes and Special Forces units.

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.