Wednesday, 20 February, 2019

US helps Afghan forces repel Taliban siege on major city

U.S. Central Command commander Gen. Jospeh Votel testifies at the Senate Committee on Armed Services on Capitol Hill in Washington US helps Afghan forces repel Taliban siege on major city
Melinda Barton | 12 August, 2018, 19:24

Taliban fighters attacked the city of Ghazni in central Afghanistan early on Friday, burning police checkpoints, shelling buildings and seizing control of parts of the city, officials said.

All shops in the city were closed due to the fighting.

Afghan Interior Ministry spokesman Nasrat Rahimi said that during an overnight battle against the Taliban, police "called in air support, but unfortunately foreign forces mistakenly bombed their positions". All shops were closed, they said, as was the highway from the capital of Kabul to Afghanistan's southern provinces that runs through Ghazni.

Capturing Ghazni even briefly would symbolically cut Afghanistan's second city of Kandahar off from the country's capital.

Hemat, the hospital administrator, said two wounded civilians were brought to the hospital.

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

"The Taliban are dropping missiles near residential and commercial areas".

"Afghan soldiers were not killed in Taliban detention centres", he said.

The militants took control of parts of the city before being pushed back to the outskirts, officials said.

If the city were to fall to the Taliban, it would compromise the security of the capital and the eight provinces it borders.

U.S. attack helicopters and drone aircraft provided government forces with air support. "In addition, U.S. aircraft conducted a show of presence".

The attack on Ghazni underscored how volatile the security situation across Afghanistan remains less than three months before parliamentary elections in October. As many as 140 Afghan soldiers and police had been killed and large quantities of weapons and equipment had been seized, he said.

There are about 14,000 USA ground troops in Afghanistan, making up the bulk of NATO's Resolute Support force.

A spokesman for President Ashraf Ghani said the Taleban had suffered heavy casualties in the onslaught and confirmed the air strikes.

Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid said in a statement to the media that the Taliban entered Ghazni city around 1 a.m. and captured a number of strategic sites within the city.

Sporadic gunfire could still be heard in the provincial city as Afghan forces exchanged fire with militants.

A US Congressional watchdog, SIGAR, said in a report a year ago the losses were "shockingly high" but Afghan authorities no longer release overall casualty data.

Police special forces have also been deployed to help block the Taliban advance, an Afghan security official said.

Anticipation has also been mounting about the possibility of a government ceasefire announcement for the Islamic holiday of Eid-al Adha later this month.