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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 14 November 2018

Afghanistan says Taliban attack on Ghazni repulsed

But insurgents have cut off phone services in the city, making situation difficult to verify

Smoke rises in the air after Taliban militants launched an attack on the Afghan provincial capital of Ghazni on August 10, 2018. AFP
Smoke rises in the air after Taliban militants launched an attack on the Afghan provincial capital of Ghazni on August 10, 2018. AFP

Afghan officials said security forces were in control of the eastern city of Ghazni on Saturday, a day after Taliban fighters launched a major attack on the provincial capital, as troops continued a clearance operation targeting the militants.

Interior ministry spokesman Najib Danish said fresh reinforcements had arrived in the area and were battling Taliban fighters north of Ghazni, promising that the insurgents were in no position to take control of the city.

"The situation is fully under control. The city is not going to fall," Mr Danish said at a press conference called after hours of official silence and mounting confusion over the fate of the city.

A spokesman for US forces in Afghanistan also described the fight for Ghazni as a clearance operation, with sporadic clashes between security forces and insurgents punctuating relative calm.

"The fact remains that the Taliban are unable to seize terrain and unable to match the Afghan security forces or our enablement, retreating once directly and decisively engaged," Lt Col Martin O'Donnell said.

Insurgents entered Ghazni from several directions late Thursday night. They attacked media offices and damaged a telecommunications tower - shutting off mobile service to the city as of Friday and making information about the fight difficult to verify.

An MP from Ghazni urged caution following Mr Danish's press conference, saying heavy clashes continued to rage between the two sides.

"Intense fighting is still ongoing in Ghazni city. The prison is under attack from several directions, they are trying to free the prisoners," said Nafisa Azimi by phone from Kabul.

"The fear is spreading in Ghazni as the day ends, the Taliban might intensify their attack as it gets dark," he added.

Mr Danish said at least 25 security forces had died in the fighting along with 150 Taliban fighters. At least one employee of a local broadcaster was also killed.

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Earlier on Saturday the Taliban claimed victory in the fight for the city, saying their forces were in control of Ghanzi after routing Afghan troops.

"Last night, our mujahideen have completely conquered a battalion in Ghazni, seizing weapons and ammunitions and four pickup trucks," said Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid.

"Our mujahideen are protecting the city of Ghazni."

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

Ghazni - less than two hours by road from Kabul - has been under increasing danger from massing Taliban fighters for months with reports suggesting insurgents had already infiltrated the city.

The attack was the latest attempt by the Taliban to seize an urban centre and comes as pressure mounts on the insurgents to enter peace talks with the government to end the nearly 17-year-old war.