Taliban launch major attack on Afghan city, casualties


U.S. forces launched airstrikes on Friday to counter a major Taliban assault on an Afghan provincial capital, where terrified residents cowered in their homes amid explosions and gunfire as security forces fought to beat the insurgents back.

USA attack helicopters and drone aircraft helped government forces fight back.

Smoke rising into the air after Taliban militants launched an attack on the Afghan provincial capital of Ghazni on August 10, 2018.

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said parts of the city had been seized by the Taliban and many people were killed. At least 14 police officers were killed overnight.

The brazen assaults by the Taliban, who have been gaining more ground in their annual spring offensive and who have shrugged off the government's latest offers of a cease-fire and negotiations, underscore the difficulties Afghan forces face in battling the relentless insurgency on their own in efforts to end the almost 17-year war.

Lt. Col. Martin O'Donnell, a spokesman for USA forces in Afghanistan, said American forces and US attack helicopters flew in overnight.

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

The US military's Resolute Support mission said it had deployed attack helicopters and a drone to help repel the Taliban from Ghazni, which has about 150,000 residents.

The Taliban fighters set fire to the local TV building and also destroyed the telecommunications tower, located just outside the city, cutting all cellphone and land line access to Ghazni, said Ali Akbar Kasemi, a lawmaker from the city.

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Civilian houses and army checkpoints came under mortar attack and the bodies of dozens of Taliban fighters were in the streets, provincial governor spokesman Arif Noori said.

As helicopters circled overhead in the early morning, a second government official said it was too risky for people to venture on to the streets. It said some bodies of the rebels remained at the battleground.

Lt. Col. Martin O'Donnell, a spokesman for USA forces in Afghanistan, said American forces and US attack helicopters had assisted Afghan troops in pushing back the Taliban during the night's multiple attacks in Ghazni.

Radmanish said at least 60 Taliban fighters were also killed in clashes at the base and elsewhere in the district.

USA officials disputed the claim, saying there were "minimal Afghan security force casualties". "Another failed attempt by Taliban to seize terrain, while creating strategically inconsequential headlines", it continued.

The attack comes as pressure continues on the Taliban to enter peace talks with the Afghan government.

Afghan forces have been struggling to hold back the resurgent militant group since the withdrawal of North Atlantic Treaty Organisation combat forces at the end of 2014.

The Taliban has long insisted on direct talks with the United States.

A tweet by USA officials called the attack a "failed attempt" to seize territory.