Heavy fighting in Ghazni as Afghan forces battle Taliban

Taliban storms strategic Afghan cityMore

Taliban insurgents held on to parts of the key city of Ghazni for a third day Sunday, putting up scattered resistance as Afghan forces backed by US airstrikes worked to clear them out.

According to the US military headquarters in Kabul, US aircraft conducted at least four air raids on Sunday and five more on Saturday, but details of the fighting were unclear as most of the city's telecoms masts were destroyed in recent fighting over recent.

Local lawmaker Chaman Shah Ehtemadi told Reuters news agency: "Only the governor's office, police headquarters and intelligence agency's compound are in the hands of the government and Taliban are pushing to take them".

Mohammad Rahim Hasanyar, a member of the provincial council, said heavy fighting was continuing in several areas of the city and Afghan forces were in defense mode.

"The situation is very dire at the moment", he said.

There was no confirmed word on casualties.

A senior Taliban official said the movement had established a political office in the Uzbek capital Tashkent aimed at developing better ties and showing that they did not intend to support local militant groups.

Taliban representatives have met USA officials to talk about the framework for possible peace talks and the government is considering offering a second ceasefire during the Eidul Azha holiday later this month.

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Security officials said that due to clashes in parts of Sayed Abad district in Wardak province, the Kabul-Kandahar highway is still close to traffic. It had supplied body bags to the provincial hospital and was ready to provide more assistance.

The early morning's assault on Ghazni was the latest in a string of attempts by the Taliban to overrun urban centers since the Afghan government called off a unilateral cease-fire with the militant group that was in place for Eid al-Fitr, the holiday marking the end of Islam's holy month of Rmadan.

"It is over and the city is taken", said a man standing outside his home, with several Taliban insurgents nearby.

There are also reports the road outside the city has been mined, making it hard for residents to escape.

While little firsthand information was available from the city Sunday and most cellphone communication was cut off, social media showed videos of badly burned and damaged buildings.

The videos could not be independently verified by Reuters but they generated heavy commentary by social media users that underlined the shock caused by the attack.

A US military spokesman said Sunday that American aircraft had conducted five airstrikes on Saturday and 10 on Sunday. They hit the city from several points of ingress, attempting to overrun it and expel USA -backed forces from the city.

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