United States launches airstrikes as Taliban attack Afghan provincial capital Ghazni

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 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

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.

All shops in the city were closed due to the fighting.

The insurgents entered the southeastern city of Ghazni overnight, reportedly hiding inside homes, before launching the brazen attack in the early morning hours.

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.

The attack on a strategic city straddling the main route between the capital Kabul and southern Afghanistan demonstrated the Taliban's strength amid increased speculation about a possible ceasefire during the Eid religious holiday this month.

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

Sporadic gunfire continued to echo, with officials telling residents to stay in their homes as Taliban fighters continued to roam the streets. He said three Taliban had been killed and eight wounded.

"This is yet another failed Taliban attempt to seize terrain, which will result in yet another eye-catching, but strategically inconsequential headline", he said.

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

Lieutenant Colonel Martin O'Donnell, a spokesman for United States forces in Afghanistan, said American forces and USA attack helicopters assisted Afghan troops in pushing back the Taliban during the night's multiple attacks in Ghazni.

The Taliban began the attack late Thursday from several positions around the city, provincial police chief Farid Ahmad Mashal told AFP.

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

A spokesman for President Ashraf Ghani said the Taliban had suffered heavy casualties in the onslaught and confirmed the airstrikes.

Earlier this year the Taliban briefly took the western city of Farah, and for periods in both 2015 and 2016 the militants overran Kunduz, in the north.

However there are tentative signs that diplomatic efforts to bring the insurgents to the table for peace talks may be starting to bear fruit. Washington has repeatedly refused, saying negotiations must be Afghan-led.

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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