U.S. launches airstrikes as Taliban attack Afghan city

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Taliban militants have launched an attack on an Afghan provincial capital and heavy fighting is under way as security forces try to beat them back, with terrified residents cowering in their homes amid explosions and gunfire.

Clashes continued in Ghazni throughout the day and fighting temporarily closed the main highway linking the north and south of the country.

Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid said in a statement that hundreds of fighters armed with heavy and light weapons entered Ghazni city around 1 a.m. local time, capturing a number of strategic sites within the city and killing 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.

A spokesman for the Ministry of Defense Gen. Mohammad Radmanish said the attack was carried out jointly by the militants from Maidan Wardak, Paktia, and Zabul provinces.

Civilian houses and army checkpoints have come under mortar attack and the bodies of dozens of Taliban fighters are in the streets, he added.

He said there were many challenges at the moment regarding the issue and that the "Taliban have also some kind of topic that some stakeholders can't accept".

At least 39 insurgents were killed, while 14 police died and 20 were wounded in the fighting, said provincial Police Chief Farid Ahmad Mashal. "Another failed attempt by Taliban to seize terrain, while creating strategically inconsequential headlines", it continued. He said three Taliban had been killed and eight wounded.

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The attack on Ghazni comes as the Taliban faces growing pressure to agree to peace talks with the Afghan government to end the 17-year war.

'Initial reports indicate minimal Afghan security force casualties, ' the USA spokesman said, adding that American forces deployed attack helicopters and conducted a drone strike in the response.

Hamidullah Nawrozi, member of Ghazni Provincial Council, told TOLOnews that "Ghazni city will fall to the Taliban if reinforcements were not sent".

The insurgents frequently exaggerate their battlefield gains and downplay losses incurred during fighting.

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".

Last month Taliban representatives met USA officials for talks in Qatar.

A statement from United States military headquarters in Kabul said fighting had ceased this morning and Afghan forces had held their ground and maintained control of all government centres.

Anticipation has also been mounting about the possibility of a government ceasefire announcement for the Islamic holiday of Eid-al Adha later this month.

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