Tal­iban at­tack prompts re­view

Pres­i­dent Ghani calls emer­gency meet­ing of of­fi­cials

Albany Times Union - - AROUND THE REGION - By Amir Shah and Kathy Gan­non

A brazen and bloody overnight as­sault Fri­day by the Tal­iban on a key pro­vin­cial cap­i­tal in cen­tral Afghanistan has in­creased pres­sure on U.s.-backed Afghan forces that are with­er­ing un­der re­lent­less at­tacks, prompt­ing Pres­i­dent Ashraf Ghani to call an emer­gency meet­ing of his se­cu­rity of­fi­cials.

While gov­ern­ment se­cu­rity forces in the city of Ghazni re­pulsed the mul­ti­pronged at­tack with the help of U.S. air sup­port, Tal­iban in­sur­gents re­mained hun­kered down on its out­skirts, and some were still holed up in res­i­den­tial ar­eas, ac­cord­ing to In­te­rior Min­istry deputy spokesman, Nas­rat Rahimi.

At least 39 in­sur­gents were killed, while 14 po­lice died and 20 were wounded in the fight­ing, said pro­vin­cial Po­lice Chief Farid Ah­mad Mashal. He said the bod­ies of the Tal­iban fight­ers were found un­der a bridge in the south­ern part of Ghazni.

Mashal said there were more than 100 other ca­su­al­ties but could not give a break­down of the dead and wounded.

Among the in­jured were four Afghan troops who were hurt when their he­li­copter crash­landed dur­ing the fight­ing, said De­fense Min­istry spokesman Mo­ham­mad Rad­man­ish. The Tal­iban claimed to have shot it down, Rad­man­ish said it was not clear if the air­craft had been hit or crash-landed for other rea­sons.

The city of about 140,000 peo­ple was in lock­down as res­i­dents stayed in­doors and re­ported spo­radic gun­fire. All shops were closed, they said, as was the high­way from the cap­i­tal of Kabul to Afghanistan’s south­ern prov­inces that runs through Ghazni.

The Tal­iban fight­ers set fire to the lo­cal TV build­ing and also de­stroyed the telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions tower, lo­cated just out­side the city, cut­ting all cell­phone and land line ac­cess to Ghazni, said Ali Ak­bar Kasemi, a law­maker from the city.

City hos­pi­tal ad­min­is­tra­tor Baz Mo­ham­mad He­mat said two wounded civil­ians were brought in for treat­ment. He feared that there were more wounded who could not make it to the hos­pi­tal be­cause the city was shut down and am­bu­lances were be­ing sent out.

Ghazni is a gate­way city link­ing the heav­ily Tal­iban-in­flu­enced south and east of Afghanistan to Kabul and is one of the last ves­tiges of gov­ern­ment con­trol in the prov­ince of the same name. The Tal­iban holds sway in most of the prov­ince where eth­nic Pash­tuns live, while the gov­ern­ment in­flu­ence is lim­ited to Ghazni and small pock­ets dom­i­nated by eth­nic Hazaras.

“The se­cu­rity sit­u­a­tion in Ghazni is un­der con­trol. Our de­fense and se­cu­rity forces are in full con­trol of the city,” Rahimi said. 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.

Rad­man­ish told The As­so­ci­ated Press the Tal­iban were driven to an area known as Hasan­abad about 500 yards out­side the city.

Both the gover­nor’s com­pound and cen­tral po­lice com­pound were un­der the con­trol of Afghan se­cu­rity forces.

In a state­ment late Fri­day, Tal­iban spokesman Zabi­hul­lah Mu­jahid said the group held con­trol of “sev­eral places in the city,” while the po­lice chief had fled to­ward the air­port.

To hold onto the city in the fierce, day­long fight­ing, Afghan forces had to call in re­in­force­ments as well as U.S. air power, in­clud­ing he­li­copter gun­ships, fighter jets and a drone strike.

Lt. Col. Martin O’don­nell, a spokesman for U.S. forces in Afghanistan, said Amer­i­can forces and U.S. at­tack he­li­copters flew in overnight. As fight­ing con­tin­ued through­out the day, he said U.S. forces re­turned, send­ing at­tack he­li­copters and fighter jets back to the area.

“It is a show of pres­ence,” he said.

An in­ves­ti­ga­tion was launched to de­ter­mine how the in­sur­gents had man­aged to push so deeply into the city, which is only 75 miles south of Kabul.

Zak­e­ria Hashimi / Getty Im­ages

Smoke rises into the air af­ter Tal­iban mil­i­tants launched an at­tack on the Afghan pro­vin­cial cap­i­tal of Ghazni on Fri­day.

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