14 dead in attempted Taliban city assault

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

A Taliban attack on the Afghan city of Ghazni has entered its third day - with intense fighting and conflicting claims over who controls the strategic city.

Ghazni - around two hours by road from the capital Kabul - has been under increasing danger from massing Taliban fighters for months, with reports suggesting insurgents had infiltrated the city at will.

Local lawmaker Chaman Shah Ehtemadi told Reuters news agency: "Only the governor's office, police headquarters and intelligence agency's compound are in the hands of the government and Taliban are pushing to take them".

The sustained onslaught by hundreds of Taliban fighters is similar to several previous attacks on major cities, especially a 2015 assault on Kunduz in the north and an attack in May on Farah city in the west.

There was no confirmed word on casualties. "We have not witnessed such a large scale attack by the Taliban before", said Andar. Local television station 1TV says the number of fatalities has risen to more than 100, but there is no official confirmation.

The onslaught was the latest attempt by the Taliban to overrun an urban centre and comes as pressure increases on the armed group to begin peace talks with the government to end the almost 17-year-old war.

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Security officials said that due to clashes in parts of Sayed Abad district in Wardak province, the Kabul-Kandahar highway is still close to traffic.

But people inside Ghazni say it has been overrun, with very little still under government control.

There are also reports the road outside the city has been mined, making it hard for residents to escape. One man, named Abdul Wakil, who reached a police check post outside the capital, told the Reuters news agency that he had seen "burning and fire and dead bodies everywhere in the city". Insurgent forces were said to have mined and set up checkpoints on the nearby highway, which links Kabul with the southern tribal region that is the Taliban's home turf.

The videos could not be independently verified but they generated heavy commentary by social media users that underlined the shock caused by the attack.

US military headquarters in Kabul said sporadic clashes were occurring and American aircraft had conducted five strikes on Saturday and four more on Sunday. Lt. Col. Martin O'Donnell said in a statement that Afghan troops had "strongly and swiftly reinforced" the city and "continue to hold their ground and maintain control of all government centers" while clearing operations continued.

The Taliban have not taken a major provincial centre since they overran the northern city of Kunduz in 2015 and the assault on Ghazni was a major blow to the Western-backed government just weeks before parliamentary elections scheduled for October 20.

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