KABUL: Afghan troops clashed with Taliban guerrillas on Sunday in Ghazni, three days after the militants overran parts of the historical and strategic town in a major push, a lawmaker and a security source said.
Scores of fighters from both sides and at least two dozen civilians have been killed in the fighting, which also involves US air support since the Taliban began their four-pronged offensive on the town early Friday, the two men said.
The main hospital in Ghazni town is overwhelmed with casualties, with a shortage of medicine, and the entire town is reported to be shut because of the fighting.
Telephone towers and communication systems have been badly affected in the fighting and the main highway that runs through the province linking Kabul with the southern and southwestern region has remained closed, Mohammad Ali Alizada, a lawmaker representing Ghazni, told Arab News.
He said government reinforcements bound for the town have been stuck near a pass outside the town which lies some 120 km to the southwest of the capital.
“Unfortunately, the reports from Ghazni are not good. There are continued skirmishes inside the town and its surrounding areas. We do not have first-hand information because of poor communication, but one thing is clear: The Taliban have presence in many parts of the town.”
He said government authorities were confined to three main areas where the compound for the governor, the headquarters for the police and intelligence are located.
He said there were conflicting reports about the release of hundreds of Taliban prisoners after the militants captured the town’s main prison.
The Taliban, in messages to reporters, said the group had seized the prison and freed fellow comrades held by the government.
One government spokesman refused to speak, while others could not be reached to discuss the situation. But a security source said the Taliban were still inside the town and fighting had intensified in its various areas on Sunday.
The country’s army chief Sharif Yaftali promised in a news conference to reopen the highway in two days’ time and blamed the Taliban for sheltering in residential areas.
“Considering the capabilities of Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANSDF), we hope to bring significant changes in Ghazni’s security and open the highway in two days.
“Strategic and key areas of Ghazni are under the government control of the ANSDF. The reason for ANSDF’s slow clearance is preventing civilian casualties. The Taliban have hidden in houses and stores.”
Later on Sunday there were reports that the Taliban had even captured the main police headquarters, but that could not be immediately confirmed independently.
And before evening, a local TV channel reported that a convoy of government reinforcement from neighboring areas came under a Taliban ambush, causing casualties.
A video posted on social media showed a group of apparent government soldiers surrendering to the militants with their military equipment, while another showed Taliban armed fighters strolling on a main street of the town.
Residents late Friday reported that the Taliban had shot down a government military helicopter, but officials said the chopper went down for technical reasons.
The push by the Taliban on Ghazni is the main one on the town since the ouster of the militants in a US-led invasion in late 2001.
The developments in Ghazni come weeks after Taliban emissaries and US officials held direct talks for finding a way to end the 17-year US war in Afghanistan.
Both sides are expected to hold a similar meeting in the future too, and some observers believe the attack on Ghazni is part of the Taliban’s effort to gain the upper hand in the talks.
The attack comes amid escalation of violence elsewhere by the insurgents against the embattled government in recent months ahead of the long-delayed parliamentary polls set for October and the presidential polls six months later.
While the two sides fight for control of Ghazni, reports emerged from northwestern Faryab about the loss of more than 25 government soldiers in a Taliban attack early Sunday after a long siege.
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