Taliban launches attack in Afghanistan; U.S. forces respond

Afghanistan: dozens dead as Taliban attack Ghazni, officials say

Afghanistan: dozens dead as Taliban attack Ghazni, officials say

Officials said clashes between government forces and the Taliban started overnight, forcing authorities to close the highway linking it to Kabul, 150 kilometers (95 miles) to the northeast.

Ghazni police chief General Farid Ahmad Mashal said the Taliban had seized several parts of the city, which has been under threat for months with heavy fighting in surrounding districts.

Taliban militants have launched an attack on an Afghan provincial capital and heavy fighting is under way as security forces try to beat them back, with terrified residents cowering in their homes amid explosions and gunfire.

Hameedullah Nawroz, a member of the Ghazni provincial council, said Friday that while Afghan forces had pushed most insurgents out, some were still hiding inside homes and buildings in the city and shooting at local forces. He was anxious more wounded could be out there as the city was shut down and ambulances were not being sent out.

Mr. Mashal said 12 police had been wounded and there were more than 100 other casualties.

At least 14 Afghan policemen were killed and 20 were wounded in the assault.

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The US said that the city remained under government control. Dozens of Afghan soldiers and police had been killed and large quantities of weapons and equipment had been seized, he said.

Lt. Col. Martin O'Donnell, a spokesman for USA forces in Afghanistan, said that the insurgents had attacked "multiple government centers" in Ghazni, a populous city about 100 miles south of Kabul on a major national highway, but that they were driven back.

As evening approached, fighting focused mainly in three directions into the city, said Nasrat Rahimi, deputy spokesman for the Interior Ministry.

All shops in the city were closed due to the fighting. Ghazni is an important artery connecting the capital to the country's southern and western provinces.

"Initial reports indicate minimal Afghan security force casualties", the U.S. spokesman later told AFP, adding that American forces deployed attack helicopters and conducted a drone strike in response. "In addition, US aircraft conducted a show of presence", Lt Col Martin O'Donnell, spokesperson for US Forces-Afghanistan said in an emailed statement. US and North Atlantic Treaty Organisation forces remain in Afghanistan mainly in a supporting and training role. The Taliban have rebuffed offers of negotiations with the government but have held one preliminary round of direct talks with Alice Wells, Washington's top diplomat for South and Central Asia, including Afghanistan.

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

But there are tentative signs that diplomatic efforts to kick-start talks are starting to bear fruit.

The ongoing violence came amid the release of a United Nations report stating the number of Afghan civilians killed in the first six months of this year has reached a record high.

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