Government forces in control of embattled Afghan city: Officials

Kabul, Afghanistan Published: Aug 11, 2018, 06:31 PM(IST)

Smoke rising into the air after Taliban militants launched an attack on the Afghan provincial capital of Ghazni. Photograph:( AFP )

Security forces were in control of the eastern Afghan city of Ghazni on Saturday, officials said, more than a day after Taliban fighters launched a major onslaught on the provincial capital, as reinforcements continued a clearance operation targeting the militants.

Interior ministry spokesman Najib Danish said fresh reinforcements had arrived in the area and were battling Taliban fighters north of Ghazni, and that the insurgents were in no position to take control of the city.

"The situation is fully under control. The city is not going to fall," Danish told a press conference, after confusion mounted over Ghazni's fate following hours of official silence.

A spokesman for US forces in Afghanistan also described the fight for the city as a clearance operation, with sporadic clashes between security forces and insurgents punctuating relative calm.

"The fact remains that the Taliban are unable to seize terrain and unable to match the Afghan security forces or our enablement, retreating once directly and decisively engaged," Lt Col Martin O'Donnell told AFP.

Insurgents entered Ghazni from several directions late Thursday night, attacking media offices and damaging a telecommunications tower, effectively shutting off mobile service to the city as of Friday afternoon -- making information about the fight difficult to verify.

An MP from Ghazni urged caution following Danish's press conference, saying heavy clashes continued to rage between the two sides.

"Intense fighting is still ongoing in Ghazni city. The prison is under attack from several directions, they are trying to free the prisoners," said Nafisa Azimi by telephone from Kabul.

"Fear is spreading in Ghazni as the day ends, the Taliban might intensify their attack as it gets dark."

Danish said at least 25 security forces had died in the fighting along with 150 Taliban fighters. At least one media worker from a local broadcaster was also killed.

'Under threat' 

Earlier Saturday, the Taliban claimed victory in the fight for the embattled city, saying their forces were in control of Ghazni after routing Afghan troops.

"Last night, our mujahideen have completely conquered a battalion in Ghazni, seizing weapons and ammunitions and four pickup trucks," said Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid in a message to journalists.

"Our mujahideen are protecting the city of Ghazni."

The Taliban often exaggerate their battlefield gains and downplay losses incurred during clashes.

Ghazni -- less than two hours by road from Kabul -- has been under increasing danger from massing Taliban fighters for months, with reports suggesting insurgents had already infiltrated the city.

Political analyst Atta Noori said the lack of official response to the mounting threat would likely dent already fraying public confidence in Kabul's ability to confront the Taliban. 

"The government might be in control of the city but it always remains under threat," said Noori. 

The attack was the latest attempt by the Taliban to seize an urban centre and comes as pressure mounts on the militant movement to enter peace talks with the government to end the nearly 17-year-old war.

It was also the largest tactical operation by the Taliban since an unprecedented ceasefire in June brought fighting between security forces and the Taliban to a temporary halt, giving war-weary Afghans some welcome relief from the bloodshed.

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