Afghan Taliban stormed Ghazni city, almost 150 kilometers southwest of Kabul Thursday night. Heavy clashes continued until late Friday morning between the insurgent group and government security forces.
At one point, the two sides were fighting in the center of the city near important government installations, including the offices of the governor and the National Directorate for Security, Afghanistan’s intelligence agency, according to residents and a member of provincial council, Amanullah Kamrani.
The government sent in Afghan special forces, which helped push the Taliban back to the outskirts of the city according to General Farid Mashal, the provincial police chief. However, he said that the Taliban were taking shelter in civilian areas, making the job of the security forces difficult. Residents said fighting continued in parts of the city, particularly in the second district.
The U.S. military has tweeted this about Ghazni:
And the Afghan military tweeted that they have inflicted heavy casualties on the Taliban in Ghazni and the district center is in their control.
The Kabul-Kandahar highway that passes through Ghazni city was closed. The Taliban claimed they had closed the highway near Maidan Wardak and Ghazni, and set up checkpoints in several other places.
Defense Ministry spokesman Mohammad Radmanish told the Associated Press that the army was helping the local police and that the security forces were in control of the city.
AP also reported that nine security forces personnel wounded in the attacks were being treated at a local hospital.
In a statement sent to media, the Taliban said they launched about a dozen broad-ranged operations in the center of Ghazni province Thursday night and claimed to have captured a large amount of weapons and ammunition. They also claimed to have killed a high number of security forces personnel but there is no independent confirmation of those claims yet.
Ghazni city is part of the larger Ghazni province, which has faced increased insecurity in recent months.
Last Friday, the Taliban stormed a military base in Southern Uruzgan province and left dozens of bodies of soldiers behind.
Fierce fighting continues in several parts of Afghanistan, despite talks of a possible cease-fire for the Muslim holy festival of Eid this month.
A similar cease-fire two months ago, the first in 17 years of hostilities, saw Taliban fighters heading to the city and taking selfies with their battleground enemies in the Afghan security forces.
Afghan authorities have stopped releasing data on the number of casualties they suffer in battles with the Taliban. Last year, a United States corruption watchdog body SIGAR called the casualties “shockingly high.”
Recently, reports have emerged of U.S. officials making direct contacts with the Taliban in an effort to start a peace and reconciliation process. The Taliban have long demanded to negotiate directly with the U.S. and not with what they call the “puppet regime” in Kabul.
Earlier this week, U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said the Taliban were under pressure to enter peace talks. However, he reiterated that the process would be “Afghan-owned and Afghan-led.”