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More Than 300 Dead in Battles for Control of Key Afghan City


Afghan security forces keep watch at a checkpoint on the Ghazni highway, in Maidan Shar, the capital of Wardak province, Afghanistan, Aug. 12, 2018.
Afghan security forces keep watch at a checkpoint on the Ghazni highway, in Maidan Shar, the capital of Wardak province, Afghanistan, Aug. 12, 2018.

Authorities in Afghanistan confirmed Monday that four days of fighting with the Taliban in and around the embattled southeastern city of Ghazni has killed 100 Afghan security personnel and 30 civilians.

Defense Minister General Tariq Shah Bahrami says government forces, backed by allied airstrikes, have killed nearly 200 insurgents, including Arab, Chechen and Pakistani nationals.

Bahrami vowed the situation in the provincial capital would be brought under control in a couple of days by flushing the Taliban from the city.

But a Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid swiftly rejected the official claims, saying insurgents have surrounded Afghan forces in parts of the city.

It was not possible to seek independent confirmation of the claims and insurgents often issue inflated details about their battlefield gains.

A U.S. military statement Monday said the city remains under Afghan control. It said American advisers are assisting Afghan forces, and since Friday U.S. “airpower has delivered decisive blows to the Taliban, killing over 140.”

A spokesman for the U.S. military, Lt. Col. Martin O'Donnell, said the city "remains under Afghan government control, and the isolated and disparate Taliban forces remaining in the city do not pose a threat to its collapse, as some have claimed.''

"That said, clearing operations are ongoing and sporadic clashes with the Taliban, particularly outside the city, continue," he said.

But residents fleeing Ghazni Sunday told local media the rebels controlled most of the city, and fighting was raging around the office of the provincial governor and provincial police headquarters.

The Taliban also ambushed military convoys heading for Ghazni to reinforce Afghan forces struggling to contain insurgent advances.

The provincial capital is located on the main highway linking northern and southern Afghan provinces, including the national capital of Kabul. The fighting has brought traffic to a halt, stranding thousands of passengers for the past four days.

The International Committee for the Red Cross said a break in the fighting Monday allowed its staff to provide the provincial hospital with fuel and emergency medical supplies.

Residents and staff said the facility was running out of space.

Acting U.N. Humanitarian Coordinator for Afghanistan Rik Peeperkon called Monday for the warring sides to take urgent steps to mitigate the suffering of Ghazni’s besieged residents and protect civilian lives.

“Vital telecommunications networks and the electricity supply are down in the city of 270,000 people, which has impacted on the water supply, and food is also reportedly running low ... Notably, parties to the conflict need to ensure that access to medical services is not denied and respect for medical facilities and staff is upheld,” Peeperkon said.

Hostilities in Ghazni have disrupted telecommunication services, making it nearly impossible to verify conflicting claims about the fighting.

Elsewhere in Afghanistan, insurgent attacks in several provinces during the past two days have killed nearly 100 government troops, including army commandos.