Afghan forces battle Taliban in key city for third day

Zakeria Hashimi—AFP

The Taliban, fighting to topple the Western-backed government and drive out worldwide forces, have generally refrained from sabotaging vital infrastructure and have sought to reassure neighbouring countries about their aims.

The descriptions stood in stark contrast to statements given by Afghan and United States' officials on Saturday, who said government forces were firmly in control of the city and vowed that Ghazni was in no danger of being seized by the Taliban.

An AFP reporter on the ground said Taliban fighters continued to roam the city, torching government offices and in control of several police checkpoints, with reinforcements deployed from Kabul slowly entering the city to confront the insurgents.

"Only the governor's office, police headquarters and intelligence agency's compound are in the hands of the government and Taliban are pushing to take them", said Chaman Shah Ehtemadi, a lawmaker from Ghazni.

Latest reports from Ghazni province - in the center of Afghanistan - indicate that battles are still ongoing in parts of the provincial capital.

The Taliban have repeatedly rejected overtures from the Afghan government to join a peace process, as they intensify attacks across the country.

The attack on Ghazni, which controls a vital highway between the capital Kabul and southern Afghanistan, has given the militants their highest profile success since they came close to taking the western city of Farah in May.

Mohammad Rahim Hasanyar, a member of the provincial council, said heavy fighting was continuing in several areas of the city and Afghan forces were in defense mode. Local television station 1TV says the number of fatalities has risen to more than 100, but there is no official confirmation. It said there had also been heavy Taliban casualties. It had supplied body bags to the provincial hospital and was ready to provide more assistance.

This comes as the Taliban militants have stepped up efforts during the recent months to increase their insurgency activities in Kabul's Sarobi district.

But people inside Ghazni say it has been overrun, with very little still under government control.

There are also reports the road outside the city has been mined, making it hard for residents to escape.

According to him, insurgents are withdrawing from the city. Clearance operations are underway and house-to-house searches are being conducted, he said.

The Taliban have not taken a major provincial centre since they overran the northern city of Kunduz in 2015 and the assault on Ghazni was a major blow to the Western-backed government just weeks before parliamentary elections scheduled for October 20.

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