Government and police buildings in the city of Ghazni were under attack Sunday by Taliban militants attempting to seize control of the provincial capital, according to local lawmakers and residents.
Afghan Army Chief of Staff Mohammad Sharif Yaftali said heavy fighting was taking place in Ghazni to push back the militants.
"Strategic locations and centers in the city are under the control of Afghan forces and the Taliban are hiding inside people's homes and shops and resisting," Yaftali told reporters at a news conference in Kabul.
But Ghazni lawmakers and some residents said the Taliban were in control of much of the city after launching an initial attack early on Friday.
"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," said Chaman Shah Ehtemadi, a lawmaker from Ghazni.
Residents were hiding in their homes or attempting to flee the fighting, with basic provisions becoming increasingly scarce and expensive.
Another lawmaker, Amanullah Kamrani, the deputy head of the Ghazni provincial council, said the situation is "chaotic."
Unconfirmed reports said both sides suffered heavy casualties, with Aghanistan's 1TV reporting more than 90 government forces had been killed along with 13 civilians, and more than 100 wounded. They also reported heavy casualties on the Taliban side but didn't provide more details.
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US airstrikesArmy reinforcements were slow to arrive because the highway into the city was heavily mined by the militants.
Likewise, most residents were trapped inside the city. But Abdul Wakil managed to escape and reach a checkpoint into Kabul.
"There was burning and fire and dead bodies everywhere in the city," Wakil told the Reuters news agency.
Videos circulating on social media, reportedly from Ghazni, show heavily armed Taliban fighters patrolling the city amid a large plume of smoke and flames.
Lt. Colonel Martin O'Donnell, a spokesman for US Forces Afghanistan at the US headquarters in Kabul, issued a statement saying the US had carried out five airstrikes on Saturday and four on Sunday.
"The Afghan National Defense and Security Forces continue to hold their ground and maintain control of all government centers," in Ghazni, he said in a statement.
The Taliban attack has left the prospect of future peace talks in doubt. The government had been considering a ceasefire for the upcoming Eid al Adha holiday, similar to a truce in June over the Eid al Fitr holiday.
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bik/rc (Reuters, AFP, dpa)
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