US forces launched air strikes today to counter a major Taliban assault on an Afghan provincial capital, where terrified residents covered in their homes amid explosions and gunfire as security forces fought to beat the insurgents back.
Officials said Afghan special forces were also being deployed to the southeastern city of Ghazni after the latest attempt by the Taliban to capture an urban centre, with the assault coming as pressure builds on the insurgents to enter peace talks.
Ghazni – less than two hours by road from Kabul – has been under threat from massing Taliban fighters for months, with residents saying the complex nature of the attacks was unprecedented in its scale.
A spokesman for US Forces in Afghanistan said the fighting had ceased as of this morning, hours after the insurgents began the assault late yesterday from several positions around the city.
Sporadic gunfire continued to echo amid intermittent clashes, with officials telling residents to stay in their homes as Taliban fighters roamed the streets. Power has been cut to the area since fighting erupted. The US said that the city remained under government control.
Baz Mohammad Himmat, head of the civilian hospital in Ghazni, said at least 16 people had been killed in the melee, including 14 soldiers and two residents.
A spokesman for President Ashraf Ghani said the Taliban had suffered heavy casualties in the onslaught and confirmed the airstrikes.