Defense

US-Backed Afghan Forces Fail To Drive Off Taliban As Battle For Key City Rages Into Third Day

ZAKERIA HASHIMI/AFP/Getty Images

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Will Racke Immigration and Foreign Policy Reporter

Afghan security forces and Taliban fighters continued to battle for control of a strategically valuable city on Sunday, the third straight day of fighting after a U.S.-backed counterattack failed to drive off the insurgents Friday.

Fighting was still underway across Ghazni — a critical gateway to the Afghan capital of Kabul — as Taliban fighters slipped into residential areas and barricaded themselves in civilian residences.

The fighters burned government offices and captured police checkpoints, leading to intense clashes with government reinforcements that had to be deployed from Kabul, Agence France Presse reported, citing local officials.

Gen. Sharif Yaftali, the Afghan army chief of staff, said security forces were still in control of all strategic and government offices, but local officials described a much different picture.

“The situation is chaotic,” Amanullah Kamrani, deputy head of the Ghazni provincial council, told AFP. “In Ghazni, only the police headquarters, governor’s office and a few departments are under Afghan forces’ control — the rest are under the Taliban fighters’ control.”

Taliban fighters attacked Ghazni from four directions early Friday morning, trading fire with Afghan security forces well into late afternoon that day. Afghan forces stopped the Taliban advance toward the city center after calling in support from U.S. attack helicopters and drone aircraft, but the counterattack failed to drive the insurgents out of the city. (RELATED: US-Backed Forces Halt Brazen Taliban Attack On Key Afghan City)

Ghazni is the capital of a strategically vital province in eastern Afghanistan. Located about 100 miles south of the capital, it straddles the Kabul-Kandahar highway, an important corridor that links the country’s northern and southern provinces.

Much of Ghazni province has been contested by Taliban forces in recent years, but this weekend’s assault marks the first attempt to seize the provincial capital.

The battle comes as Washington and the U.S.-backed government in Kabul are trying to persuade the Taliban to enter peace talks to wind down the nearly 17-year-old war. U.S. diplomats reportedly met directly with Taliban leaders in Qatar in July, a reversal of Washington’s longstanding insistence that Kabul lead negotiations with the insurgent group.

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