Afghanistan: dozens dead as Taliban attack Ghazni, officials say

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Lieutenant Colonel Martin O'Donnell, a spokesman for USA forces in Afghanistan, said American forces and United States attack helicopters assisted Afghan troops in pushing back the Taliban during the night's multiple attacks in Ghazni.

Within hours, the Taliban claimed to have much of the capital under their control.

The Taliban launched an attack Friday on one of Afghanistan's key cities, seizing buildings and exchanging fire with security forces during an air and ground battle that led to USA forces' assistance.

A high level delegation from China is expected to visit Afghanistan in the near future where it will announce Beijing's full support to the Afghan-led and Afghan-owned peace process, the office of Mohammad Hanif Atmar, national security advisor to the president said Thursday.

Ghazni police chief General Farid Ahmad Mashal said the Taliban seized several parts of the city, which has been under threat for months with heavy fighting in surrounding districts.

At least eight civilians and seven government security personnel were injured, provincial government spokesman Mohammad Arif Noori Ghazni told the BBC.

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Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid claimed parts of Ghazni had been seized and scores of people killed.

"U.S. Forces responded with close-air support this morning in #Ghazni", the official account for US Forces in Afghanistan tweeted Friday. Air strikes called in to quash the offensive also killed dozens of Taliban, he said.

The brazen assaults by the Taliban, who have been gaining more ground in their annual spring offensive and who have shrugged off the government's latest offers of a cease-fire and negotiations, underscore the difficulties Afghan forces face in battling the relentless insurgency on their own in efforts to end the almost 17-year war.

Police officials told AP that dozens of Taliban fighters were killed by the airstrikes.

The Taliban fighters set fire to the local TV building and also destroyed the telecommunications tower, located just outside the city, cutting all cellphone and land line access to Ghazni, said Ali Akbar Kasemi, a lawmaker from the city.

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All shops were closed, they said, as was the highway from the capital of Kabul to Afghanistan's southern provinces that runs through Ghazni.

The attack on Ghazni comes as the Taliban faces growing pressure to agree to peace talks with the Afghan government to end the 17-year war.

The Taliban have stepped up attacks across the country since North Atlantic Treaty Organisation and the United States formally ended their combat mission in 2014.

But a spokesman for US Forces in Afghanistan said fighting had "ceased" as of Friday morning.

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

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