Sat, Aug 11, 2018 - Page 1 News List

US launches airstrikes to help fend off major Taliban assault on Afghan city

AFP, GHAZNI, Afghanistan

Smoke rises into the air after Taliban militants launched an attack on Ghazni, Afghanistan, yesterday.

Photo: AFP

US forces yesterday launched airstrikes 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 fought to beat the insurgents back.

Officials said Afghan special forces were also being deployed to the southeastern city of Ghazni after the latest attempt by the Taliban to capture an urban center amid building pressure 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 that the complex nature of the attacks was unprecedented in its scale.

The fighting had “ceased” as of yesterday morning, hours after the insurgents began the assault late on Thursday from several positions around the city, a US military spokesman said.

Sporadic gunfire continued to echo amid intermittent clashes, with officials telling residents to stay in their homes as Taliban fighters roamed the streets.

Power has been cut to the area since fighting erupted.

Earlier, residents described heavy gunfire ringing out and a government building set on fire.

“We are scared for our life. The Taliban are roaming everywhere in and around the city,” shopkeeper Mohammad Haleem said.

Another resident, Yasan, said the Taliban were using loudspeakers at a mosque to warn residents to stay in their homes.

“Heavy explosions and gunfire can be heard. We are terrified,” Yasan said on Facebook.

Civilian houses and army checkpoints were attacked by mortar and the bodies of dozens of Taliban fighters were in the streets, said Arif Noori, spokesman for the provincial governor.

The US said that the city remained under government control.

“U.S. Forces responded with close-air support this morning in #Ghazni,” US Forces, Afghanistan said on Twitter. “Afghan forces held their ground and maintain control of all govt. centers. Another failed attempt by Taliban to seize terrain, while creating strategically inconsequential headlines.”

“Initial reports indicate minimal Afghan security force casualties,” the US spokesman later told reporters, adding that US forces deployed attack helicopters and conducted a drone strike in the response.

Baz Mohammad Himmat, head of a civilian hospital in Ghazni, said at least 16 people had been killed in the fighting, including 14 soldiers and two residents.

A spokesman for Afghan 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 to have killed or wounded 140 security forces.

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

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