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GHAZNI: Afghan forces launched a clearing operation on Friday, searching for the Taliban fighters following a major assault on Ghazni, after US air strikes targeted insurgents trying to overrun the city.

Afghan special forces were deployed to Ghazni after the latest attempt by the Taliban to capture an urban centre, with the assault coming as pressure builds on the insurgents to enter peace talks.

Ghazni — less than two hours by road from Kabul — has been under threat from massing Taliban fighters for months, with residents saying the complex nature of the attacks was unprecedented in its scale.

A spokesman for US forces in Afghanistan said the fighting had “ceased” as of Friday morning, hours after the insurgents began the assault late on Thursday from several positions around the city.

However, sporadic gunfire continued to echo into the afternoon amid intermittent clashes, with officials telling residents to stay in their homes as scattered Taliban fighters roamed the streets. “Our commandos and Afghan army forces... are conducting a clearance operation as the Taliban have taken up positions in civilian houses,” said Mohammad Radmanesh, a defence ministry spokesman, adding that security forces were in control of the city.

Power has been cut to Ghazni since the fighting erupted, with communications in the area appearing to be down. “We are scared for our lives. The Taliban are roaming everywhere in and around the city,” shopkeeper Mohammad Haleem said hours after the assault began.

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.

The US said that the city remained under government control. “US forces responded with close-air support this morning in Ghazni,” the official account for US Forces in Afghanistan tweeted on Friday.

“Afghan forces held their ground and maintain control of all government centres. Another failed attempt by Taliban to seize terrain, while creating strategically inconsequential headlines,” it said.

The Taliban issued a statement claiming to have captured “most of the government buildings inside the city”.

Published in Dawn, August 11th, 2018