Taliban launches brazen attack on strategic Afghan city of Ghazni

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

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

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

Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid said in a statement hundreds of fighters captured several strategic sites within the city and killed more than 140 Afghan soldiers.

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.

Lt. Col. Martin O'Donnell, a spokesman for US 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.

The US said that the city remained under government control.

Still, the Afghan forces were engaged in house-to house battles in some residential areas to root out the remnants of the Taliban's attack force.

More than 1,000 Taliban fighters struck at night, shelling homes and destroying police checkpoints.

Ghazni police chief General Farid Ahmad Mashal said the Taliban seized several parts of the city, which has been under threat for months, with local officials warning that heavy fighting in surrounding districts showed the city was increasingly vulnerable.

Friday morning's assault on Ghazni was the latest in a string of attempts by the Taliban to overrun urban centers since the Afghan government called off a unilateral ceasefire with the militant group that was in place for Eid al-Fitr, the holiday marking the end of Islam's holy month of Rmadan.

The insurgents frequently exaggerate their battlefield gains and downplay losses incurred during fighting. "Our defense and security forces are in full control of the city", Rahimi said.

A spokesperson said the attack was "another failed Taliban attempt to seize terrain, which will result in yet another eye-catching, but strategically inconsequential headline".

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.

Elsewhere in Afghanistan, a Taliban attack Thursday night in western Herat province left six policemen dead in the district of Obe, said the governor's spokesman there, Gelani Farhad.

The Taliban are fighting the Western-backed government to restore their version of sharia, or Islamic law, after they were driven out by USA -led forces in 2001.

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".

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

On August 6, the Financial Times reported that Chinese officials had reportedly met the Afghan Taliban several times in the past year.

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