Taliban fighters storm Afghanistan's Ghazni, seize parts of city

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The Taleban launched a multi-pronged attack in attempts to overrun a provincial capital in Afghanistan on Friday, hiding inside people's homes before slipping into city streets overnight and setting off daylong clashes with US-backed Afghan forces trying to push them back.

All shops in the city were closed due to the fighting.

Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid said in a statement hundreds of fighters captured several strategic sites within the city and killed more than 140 Afghan soldiers. The highway from Kabul to Afghanistan's southern provinces was also closed as it runs through Ghazni.

Capturing Ghazni even briefly would symbolically cut Afghanistan's second city of Kandahar off from the country's capital.

Baz Mohammad Hemat, the administrator of the city hospital, told The Associated Press that at least 14 police officers were killed and 20 members of the security forces were wounded before the militants were pushed back. An Afghan military helicopter had crashed during the battle, though an army spokesman said it was not clear if it had been shot down.

"The Taliban are dropping missiles near residential and commercial areas".

Air strikes called in to quash the offensive also killed dozens of Taliban, he said.

In May, the Taleban attacked the western city of Farah.

USA attack helicopters aided Afghan forces and there was a drone strike, he added.

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Muhammad Radmanish, a spokesman for the ministry of defence, said 27 Afghan soldiers were killed and five wounded.

A spokesman for President Ashraf Ghani said the Taleban had suffered heavy casualties in the onslaught and confirmed the air strikes.

However, the USA disputed that figure, saying initial reports indicated there were "minimal Afghan security force casualties".

"US Forces responded with close-air support this morning in #Ghazni. Our defense and security forces are in full control of the city", Rahimi said. Police special forces have also been deployed to help block the Taleban advance on the city, an Afghan security official said.

However, there are tentative signs that diplomatic efforts to bring the insurgents to the table for peace talks may be starting to bear fruit.

The Taliban attack came as Ghazni contemplated a cease-fire offer to mark the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha later this month.

By midday Friday, O'Donnell said that fighting was continuing inside Ghazni, prompting the USA forces to return American attack helicopters and fighter jets to the area soon after they were initially pulled back.

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