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Taliban, Afghan Forces 'Continue To Battle' For Key City


Smoke rises from a residential as the Taliban battled the Afghan security forces in Ghazni on August 10.

The battle for the eastern Afghan city of Ghazni has continued into the evening for a third day as government forces and Taliban fighters engage in intense clashes, reports say.

The Afghan government forces received reinforcement from other provinces, including Khost, Logar, and Paktiya, Defense Ministry spokesman Ghafoor Ahmad Javed told RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan.

Ghazni, the capital of the province of the same name, is located on the key highway between Afghanistan's two largest cities, Kabul and Kandahar.

Javed reiterated earlier comments by Afghan military officials that security forces remained in control of key government offices and that a clearance operation against the Taliban was ongoing.

Provincial council member Nasir Ahmad Faqiri said fresh fighting erupted in the morning of August 12 near the police and spy agency headquarters, as well as the governor's palace.

At least 80 members of Afghanistan's security forces have been killed in three days of fighting, according to Faqiri.

"Only the police headquarters, governor's office, and a few departments are under Afghan forces' control," said Amanullah Kamrani, deputy head of the provincial council. "The rest are under the Taliban fighters' control."

An AFP reporter on the ground said Taliban fighters continued to roam the city, torching government offices and in control of a number of police checkpoints.

RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan reported that the Kabul-Kandahar highway has been blocked, leaving hundreds of people stranded.

At the Kandahar main bus station, a woman who gave only her first name, Amina, told RFE/RL that she was unable to return home to Kabul.

"We've been stuck here for three days," Amina said. "We can't afford a hotel room, we don’t have money to buy food. We are spending nights outside."

"It's our third night here," said Said Mohammad, who was among a large group of people stranded at the bus station.

"We ask the government to reopen the highway as soon as possible because a lot of women and sick people are stuck here in this heat."

Telecommunication services were reportedly shut down in Ghazni due to the clashes, making information difficult to verify.

Amanullah Kamrani, the deputy head of the Ghazni Provincial Council, told RFE/RL that the residents were facing a severe shortage of food and drinking water.

The sick and those wounded in the clashes were not able to get medical assistance, Kamrani said.

The Afghan National Army's chief of staff, General Mohammad Sharif Yaftali, said that he hoped the security forces would "completely change the situation in Ghazni in the next two days and restore peace and stability there."

A spokesman for U.S. forces in Afghanistan, Lieutenant Colonel Martin O'Donnell, said U.S. aircraft conducted strikes on August 11-12, adding that Afghan government forces "continue to hold their ground and maintain control of all government centers."

According to the Defense Ministry spokesman, Afghan forces are moving "slowly" and carefully, and restrain from using intensive air strikes to prevent civilian casualties.

Javed told RFE/RL that militants were hiding in people’s homes and shops, essentially using the civilians as human shields.

The Taliban launched their assault on Ghazni early on August 10 in the latest in a series of attempts by the militants to capture urban centers.

On August 11, Defense Ministry spokesman Mohammad Radmanesh told RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan that the city was under control of the security forces, but said clearance operations were continuing.

A spokesman for U.S. forces in Afghanistan also described the fight for the city as a clearance operation, with sporadic clashes between security forces and militants.

Meanwhile, Interior Ministry spokesman Najib Danish said more than 150 Taliban fighters, 25 security forces, and a local reporter had been killed in the fighting.

The Western-backed government in Kabul has been struggling to fend off the Taliban and other militant groups since the withdrawal of most NATO troops in 2014.

In May, the Taliban attackedthe western city of Farah. After a day of intense fighting, Afghan commandos and U.S. air strikes drove the group to the outskirts of the city.

With reporting by AFP, dpa, Tolo News, and RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan

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