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Dozens killed as Taliban storm Afghanistan’s Ghazni city

Kabul, Aug 10 (IANS) The Taliban launched a massive offensive in Afghanistan’s Ghazni city on Friday amid reports of multiple casualties even as heavy fighting continued between the government forces and militants.

Afghan soldiers fought back as militants converged from four sides of the city, resulting in several deaths on all sides, Ghazni provincial government spokesman Mohammad Arif Noori said.

Sporadic gunfire could still be heard in the provincial city as Afghan forces exchanged fire with militants. The spokesperson said that a group of Taliban fighters who had made their way into the city were holed up near the provincial police headquarters and were firing on the building, CNN reported.

Noori claimed that Ghazni security forces managed to drive out most of the Taliban forces from the city centre but as per reports, residents in several neighbourhoods said that heavy fighting was ongoing around them.

Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid said in a statement to the media that the Taliban entered Ghazni city around 1 a.m. and captured a number of strategic sites within the city.

“Hundreds of Mujahedeen entered the city, captured the police headquarters and all six police districts and an important military base, Bala Hesar,” he said.

“Attacks were underway on the governor’s office, the National Directorate for Security (Afghan intelligence agency) headquarters and other government offices,” he said, adding that more than 140 Afghan soldiers were killed.

One resident Nasir Ahmad Faqiri told the New York Times that the militants were fighting with “their whole power”.

“There are Taliban militants in all roads and streets of the city, but they are facing strong resistance from government forces,” he said.

The Ghazni attack was the second assault on an Afghan city this year. In May, insurgents overran the western city of Farah, but they left a day later amid counterattacks from the Afghan government and American airstrikes.

The Afghan government had unilaterally called off a ceasefire with the militant group that it had in place for Eid ul-Fitr, the holiday marking the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

In a tweet, US Forces Afghanistan called the attack a “failed attempt to seize terrain”, saying that Afghan forces were able to maintain control of government buildings.

“US Forces responded with close-air support this morning in #Ghazni. Afghan forces held their ground and maintain control of all (government) centres. Another failed attempt by Taliban to seize terrain, while creating strategically inconsequential headlines,” it read.

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