Afghan forces say regaining control over besieged city

Heavy fighting has rocked Ghazni since late last week, exposing the government’s failure to ensure the security of the strategic city.

india Updated: Aug 14, 2018 19:53 IST
Taliban attack in Ghazni,Ghazni,Afghan forces
Afghan passengers bound to Kabul wait at a bus station in Kandahar province as the Kabul-Kandahar bus services stopped following a Taliban assault in the city of Ghazni on August 13, 2018 . (AFP Photo )

Afghan troops backed by US forces gained control over large parts of the embattled city of Ghazni on Tuesday, officials said, even as a minister said Pakistani fighters were involved in the assault on the provincial capital.

Reports of a Taliban attack in another province also raised questions about Afghanistan’s prospects. Heavy fighting has rocked Ghazni since late last week, exposing the government’s failure to ensure the security of the strategic city on the main road between the capital Kabul and the southern parts of the country.

Government officials said nearly 100 security personnel, some 200 militants and at least 20 civilians were killed in the fighting, which followed months of warnings from officials in Ghazni about the city’s vulnerability as the Taliban tightened their grip on the surrounding countryside.

Communications with Ghazni were cut when its telecommunications masts were destroyed in fighting but as contact was restored and people escaped the city, a grim picture emerged.

Video footage arriving in Kabul on Tuesday showed bodies and burned vehicles strewn in streets lined with destroyed buildings. Heavily armed Taliban fighters could be seen in the footage.

Reports from Ghazni said water and food were scarce and shops were being looted. Residents said on Tuesday the Taliban had withdrawn from several areas after setting government buildings on fire.

Afghan defence minister Tariq Shah Bahrami said on Monday Pakistani, Chechen and Arab fighters were involved in the attack on Ghazni.

Afrasiab Khattak, a senior leader of Pakistan’s Awami National Party, said reports had been received of Pakistani fighters being killed or arrested in Ghazni. In a tweet, he sought an explanation from the Pakistan government and called for a change in the policy of backing the use of militants in Afghanistan.

“Pak govt needs to explain reports about the dead bodies of Pakistanis coming in from the war in Ghazni and Pak fighters getting arrested. Is it the repetition of the Jalalabad fiasco in 1989? Pak Afghan Policy is an unmitigated disaster,” Khattak tweeted.

Afghan defence ministry spokesman Mohammad Radmanish said on Tuesday government forces in Ghazni were “reasserting control over strategic checkpoints”. He added, “Taliban militants have been pushed back. We will soon have complete control over the city.”

The Taliban claimed on Monday 266 members of government forces had been killed.

The violence shattered faint hope for moves towards a peace process generated by a three-day truce during the Eid al-Fitr holiday in June, and a Taliban report late last month of a meeting between a senior US diplomat and militant representatives in Doha.

While security forces appeared to reassert control over Ghazni, the Taliban attacked and seized large parts of an army base in northern Faryab province, killing 10 soldiers and capturing dozens over two days of clashes, officials said. One official in Faryab said the Taliban captured 40 soldiers, while 30 militants were killed.

The Taliban are fighting to expel foreign forces, topple the Western-backed government and impose their version of Shariah law 17 years after they were ousted by US-backed forces.

Western diplomats said the fighting raised questions about the viability of the US strategy to end the war, which for the past year has focused on pressuring the militants, largely with more air strikes, to force them to the negotiating table.

First Published: Aug 14, 2018 19:53 IST