Taliban Launch Major Attack On Afghan City, Casualties

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

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

There were conflicting reports from residents and local officials, however, with some reporting that Taliban fighters were still roaming parts of the city and that gunfire continued throughout the day, while frightened residents hid in their homes.

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid issued a statement saying multiple attacks were launched overnight in Ghazni.

The attack around 80 miles south of Kabul was the militants' second all-out assault on a provincial capital this year and was one of their most audacious operations to date.

Administrator of the Ghazni city hospital, Baz Mohammad Hemat, said 14 security forces were killed and 20 security personnel were wounded.

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

Several bodies of dead Taliban fighters remained on the streets of Ghazni, the police chief said. The Taliban claimed to have shot it down, Radmanish said it was not clear if the aircraft had been hit or crash-landed for other reasons. "Another failed attempt by Taliban to seize terrain, while creating strategically inconsequential headlines", it continued. As many as 140 Afghan soldiers and police had been killed and large quantities of weapons and equipment had been seized, he said.

The insurgents frequently exaggerate their battlefield gains and downplay losses incurred during fighting. "There has not been a single minute of silence for the last eight hours", said a senior government official in Ghazni. "Our defense and security forces are in full control of the city", Rahimi said.

The Western-backed government in Kabul has been struggling to fend off the Taliban and other militant groups since the withdrawal of most North Atlantic Treaty Organisation troops in 2014.

In May the Taliban attacked the western city of Farah.

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

A statement from USA military headquarters in Kabul said fighting had ceased by 8.00 a.m. (0330 GMT) and Afghan forces had held their ground and maintained control of all government centers.

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.

Andrew Wilder, vice president of Asia programs at the U.S. Institute of Peace, said the attack by the insurgents was "a well-timed effort to demonstrate their military power to strengthen their negotiating position prior to another cease-fire and in the event of peace talks".

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

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