Taliban cling to pockets of Afghan city after assault

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A brazen and bloody overnight assault Friday by the Taliban on a key provincial capital in central Afghanistan has increased pressure on US -backed Afghan forces that are withering under relentless attacks, prompting President Ashraf Ghani to call an emergency meeting of his security officials.

The government in Kabul insisted that Ghazni was under its control but residents reported fierce clashes in several districts of the city and streets strewn with corpses.

The Taliban claim to have seized parts of the city and to have killed local officials.

The Taliban say they met with Alice Wells, the top USA diplomat for South Asia, in Qatar last month for preliminary talks.

Mohammad Rahim Hasanyar, a member of the provincial council, said heavy fighting was continuing in several areas of the city and Afghan forces were in defense mode.

"Our commandos and Afghan army forces. are conducting a clearance operation as the Taliban have taken up positions in civilian houses", said Mohammad Radmanesh, a defence ministry spokesman, adding that security forces were in control of the city.

"Only the governor's office, police headquarters and intelligence agency's compound are in the hands of the government", Ghazni provincial official says, amid government claim the city was firmly under its control not Taliban's.

A Taliban spokesman confirmed its officials from the Qatar-based political office concluded a four-day visit to Uzbekistan on Friday, where it held talks with the foreign minister and the Uzbek presidential envoy for Afghanistan.

Danish said at least 25 security forces had died in the fighting along with 150 Taliban fighters.

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The attack, the heaviest blow struck by the Taliban since they came close to overrunning the western city of Farah in May, dampened hopes of peace talks which had grown since a surprise three-day truce during the Eid al-Fitr holiday in June.

Government radio and television was shut down and only Radio Shariat, a Taliban station, was broadcasting.

A senior official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to speak to the media, said around 80 members of the security forces, as well as an unknown number of civilians had been killed.

Along a 3-mile stretch of the city, there were four Taliban checkpoints, each with a commandeered auto and a pair of motorcycles among four fighters, who appeared on their guard but unworried.

To hold onto the city in the fierce, daylong fighting, Afghan forces had to call in reinforcements as well as US air power, including helicopter gunships, fighter jets and a drone strike.

The Taliban have been attacking various districts of the Ghazni province for weeks.

However, the provincial IEC chief told TOLOnews at about 11am that the Independent Election Commission's offices in the city were on fire after being torched by the Taliban.

But the Taliban have so far ignored Afghan President Ashraf Ghani's offer of unconditional peace negotiations even though their representatives met United States officials in Qatar last month and are to hold another meeting next month.

The Taliban have rebuffed offers of negotiations with the government but have held one preliminary round of direct talks with Alice Wells, Washington's top diplomat for South and Central Asia, including Afghanistan.