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Taliban Threat To Second Afghan Provincial Capital Repelled

Afghan security personnel stand guard on an armored vehicle at a checkpoint in Ghazni on October 13.

Fighting flared in eastern Afghanistan on October 12 as Taliban insurgents threatened to storm another provincial capital, two weeks after their brief capture of Kunduz city.

The attempt to seize Ghazni city, 130 kilometers south of Kabul, was repelled by Afghan forces. But it raised alarms as the resurgent militant group pushes to expand beyond its rural strongholds in the south of the country.

The violence, which prompted local shops and schools to close, follows the Taliban's three-day occupation of Kunduz and an attempt by the militants to capture the capital of northern Faryab Province.

"This morning some 2,000 Taliban fighters launched attacks on Ghazni from several directions," Deputy Provincial Governor Mohammad Ali Ahmadi said.

"The Taliban planned to attack and seize the capital, but we were on the alert and repelled them," he said.

The development comes after days of sporadic clashes. Officials said Afghan military reinforcements had arrived from neighboring provinces to secure the city.

"The Taliban's effort to capture the city has failed," Assadullah Shujahi Ghazni, the deputy provincial police chief, told AFP. "The Taliban will soon realize that Ghazni is no Kunduz."

The fall of Kunduz was a stinging blow to Western-trained Afghan forces, who have largely been fighting on their own since the end of NATO's combat mission in December.

It raised the prospect of a domino effect of big cities falling into the hands of the Taliban for the first time in 14 years.

Afghan forces claim to have wrested back control of Kunduz, but sporadic firefights continue with pockets of insurgents as soldiers, backed by NATO special forces, conduct door-to-door clearance operations.

As fighting spreads in neighboring provinces such as Badakhshan and Takhar, concerns are mounting that the seizure of Kunduz was merely the opening gambit in a new, bolder strategy to tighten the insurgency's grip across northern Afghanistan.

The militants last week attempted to overrun Maimana, the capital of Faryab Province, but were pushed back by Afghan forces with the aid of pro-government militias.

The emboldened insurgents have stepped up attacks around Afghanistan since they launched their annual summer offensive in late April.

A Taliban suicide bomber targeted a British military convoy in Kabul on October 11 in a rush-hour attack that wounded at least three civilians, including a child.

NATO forces are under fire after a U.S. air strike on October 3 pummelled a hospital in Kunduz run by Doctors Without Borders (MSF), killing at least 12 staff and 10 patients.

The medical charity shut down the trauma center, branding the incident a "war crime" and demanding an international investigation into the incident.

The Pentagon announced on October 10 that it would make compensation payments for those killed or injured in the strike, while suggesting that U.S. forces in Afghanistan could also pay for repairs to the hospital.

With reporting by AFP and Reuters