Afghanistan: dozens dead as Taliban attack Ghazni, officials say

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Heavily armed Taliban fighters attacked the strategic central Afghan city of Ghazni today, burning police checkpoints and seizing control of parts of the centre before being driven back by US-backed forces, officials said.

Terrified Ghazni residents cowered in their homes amid explosions and gunfire as security forces fought to beat the insurgents back.

Lt. Col. Martin O'Donnell, a spokesman for USA forces in Afghanistan, said American forces and US attack helicopters had assisted Afghan troops in pushing back the Taliban during the night's multiple attacks in Ghazni.

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.

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

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Officials said clashes between security forces and the Taliban started at around 2.00 a.m., forcing the closure of the main highway linking Ghazni to Kabul, 150 km (95 miles) to the northeast. "Another failed attempt by Taliban to seize terrain, while creating strategically inconsequential headlines", it continued.

Radmanish said at least 60 Taliban fighters were also killed in clashes at the base and elsewhere in the district.

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

Hamidullah Nawrozi, member of Ghazni Provincial Council, told TOLOnews that "Ghazni city will fall to the Taliban if reinforcements were not sent".

Afghan forces have been struggling to hold back the resurgent militant group since the withdrawal of North Atlantic Treaty Organisation combat forces at the end of 2014.

The Taliban has long insisted on direct talks with the United States.

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A statement from U.S. military headquarters in Kabul said fighting had ceased this morning and Afghan forces had held their ground and maintained control of all government centres.

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.

Pompeo also said the role of foreign forces in Afghanistan would be on the table.

However, even while conducting preliminary discussions with USA officials, the Taliban have launched a series of operations that underscored their ability to inflict severe damage on Afghan forces.

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