Afghan government asserts ‘complete control’ over Ghazni after Taliban assault

Heavy fighting in Ghazni as Afghan forces battle Taliban

Taliban control of the city would not only cut off northern Afghanistan and the capital from the traditional Taliban homelands in the south, it would also prove a severe defeat for the US and Afghan strategy of holding population centers rather than territory.

The US said that the city remained under government control.

The Taliban spokesman, Zabihullah Mujahid, did claim in a Twitter post that the insurgents had "liberated" the city's prison, releasing everyone inside.

"U.S. Forces responded with close-air support this morning in #Ghazni", the official account for US Forces in Afghanistan tweeted today.

"Afghan National Army reinforcements are making their way to Ghazni city to help the Afghan National Police search and clear the city of insurgents that may still be hiding in the city".

United States aircraft conducted at least four air strikes but details of the fighting were unclear as most of the city's telecoms masts were destroyed in fighting over recent days.

USA military headquarters in Kabul said sporadic clashes were occurring and American aircraft had conducted five strikes on Saturday and four more on Sunday.

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

"The Taliban are roaming everywhere in and around the city", shopkeeper Mohammad Haleem said.

O'Donnell, the USA military spokesman, said the Taliban achieved nothing from the Ghazni assault "except another eye-catching, but inconsequential headline".

Danish said at least 25 security forces had died in the fighting along with 150 Taliban fighters. US air support was also used to help Afghan troops retake Farah.

In May the Taliban attacked the western city of Farah.

One security official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said both sides were fighting to control commercial centers and arterial roads around the city.

The Taliban has ignored an offer by the government for direct peace negotiations.

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However there are tentative signs that diplomatic efforts to bring the insurgents to the table for peace talks may be starting to bear fruit.

"We stand ready to create all necessary conditions, at any stage of the peace process, to arrange direct talks between the government of Afghanistan and Taliban movement", Mirziyoyev told an worldwide peace conference in the Uzbek capital in March. Washington has held preliminary talks with the insurgents in an attempt to find a negotiated end to Afghanistan's protracted war.

Pompeo also said the role of foreign forces in Afghanistan would be on the table.

Suhail Shaheen, spokesman for the Taliban's political office in Doha, said in a statement to The Associated Press that discussions covered everything from worldwide troop withdrawal to peace prospects to possible Uzbek-funded development projects that could include railway lines and electricity.

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

President Ashraf Ghani is said to be considering a cease-fire offer to the Taliban for the upcoming Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha, which starts August 21.

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