Taliban fighters storm Afghan city, seizing areas
Heavily armed Taliban fighters attacked Ghazni city in central Afghanistan early on Friday, burning police checkpoints, shelling houses and business areas and seizing control of parts of the city before being beaten back, officials said. U.S. attack helicopters and drone aircraft provided government forces with air support. But as smoke rose across the city and witnesses reported bodies lying in the streets, and it was unclear how much of Ghazni was under government control. The attack on a strategic city straddling the main route between the capital Kabul and southern Afghanistan demonstrated the Taliban’s strength, underscoring how volatile the security situation remains less than three months before parliamentary elections in October. The defence ministry in Kabul said the attackers had been driven off but were still present in one area of the city and had occupied civilian houses, from where they were still keeping up occasional fire on security forces clearing the area. It said around 150 attackers had been killed or wounded but gave no estimate of casualties for civilians or security forces. A statement from U.S. military headquarters in Kabul said fighting had ceased by 8 a.m. and Afghan forces had held their ground and maintained control of all government centres. “U.S. forces responded with close-air support [U.S. attack helicopters] and conducted one strike [drone]. In addition, U.S. aircraft conducted a show of presence,” Lieutenant-Colonel Martin O’Donnell, spokesman for U.S. Forces-Afghanistan said in an emailed statement. “The Taliban are dropping missiles near residential and commercial areas. There has not been a single minute of silence for the last eight hours,” said a senior government official in Ghazni early on Friday.