Afghan special forces sent to bolster threatened city defenses
Reuters: Afghan security forces backed by U.S. advisers and air strikes fought on Monday to drive Taliban fighters out of the embattled city of Ghazni, where hundreds of people have been killed or wounded during four days of fighting.
The Taliban attack on Ghazni, a strategic center on the main highway linking the capital Kabul with southern Afghanistan, is a blow to President Ashraf Ghani weeks before parliamentary elections are due and dampens hopes of a start to peace talks.
The insurgents seized control of the districts of Khawaja Omari, north of Ghazni city and Ajrestan, in the west, with officials saying dozens of Afghan security forces had either been killed or were missing.
Diplomats in Kabul said the government had admitted being taken by surprise by the attack and after 72 hours with minimal public comment from the presidential palace, Ghani announced on Twitter that reinforcements would be sent to the city urgently.
Afghan officials said U.S. special forces units were on the ground helping to coordinate air strikes and ground operations and the U.S. military said American aircraft had launched two dozen air strikes since Friday.
“U.S. advisers are assisting the Afghan forces and U.S. airpower has delivered decisive blows to the Taliban, killing more than 140 since August 10,” said Lt Col Martin O’Donnell, the spokesman for U.S Forces-Afghanistan.
The Afghan government controls Ghazni, he said, adding there was no threat of collapse from “isolated and disparate” Taliban forces in the city with Highway 1, the main route from Kabul, open.
“That said, clearing operations are ongoing and sporadic clashes with the Taliban, particularly outside the city, continue,” he added.
The Ghazni fighting adds to an increasingly fevered political atmosphere ahead of parliamentary elections in October, which have faced widespread concerns over potential security threats from both the Taliban and other armed groups.