A Taliban attack on the Afghan city of Ghazni has entered its third day - with intense fighting and conflicting claims over who controls the strategic city.
The Taliban pushed into the city, the capital of Ghazni province, from different directions on Friday and destroyed a telecommunication tower, cutting off landline and cell phone communications.
Mohammad Sharif Yaftali, Afghan army chief of staff, said on Sunday the city was not under threat of collapse and heavy fighting was under way to push back the Taliban from city limits.
A group of fifty Taliban fighters have joined the peace process in Badghis province, local officials said Sunday.
Yafteli pledged Ghazni would be cleared in a couple of days and the highway between Kabul and the city reopened.
The Taliban emerged out of the Afghan Civil War and took control of the country in the early 1990s, enforcing its strict interpretation of Sharia, or Islamic law.
It has come despite recent Afghan and US efforts to promote peace talks and build on a successful three-day cease-fire in mid-June. "We have not witnessed such a large scale attack by the Taliban before", said Andar. One lawmaker said that only the governor's office, the police headquarters and the intelligence police facility remained in government hands. Local television station 1TV says the number of fatalities has risen to more than 100, but there is no official confirmation.
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The Taliban have contested several provincial capitals over the past few years, and generally speaking have launched smaller raids against security forces, trying to soften them up and challenge the defenses within, before making serious attempts to capture them outright.
The Red Cross said in a message on Twitter that it was watching the situation closely.
"It is over and the city is taken", said a man standing outside his home, with several Taliban fighters nearby.
With the highway heavily mined to prevent reinforcements from arriving, residents were largely blocked inside but some who managed to escape across fields on the city's periphery said many government buildings were ablaze.
USA military headquarters in Kabul said sporadic clashes were occurring and American aircraft had conducted five strikes on Saturday and four more on Sunday.
Abdul Wakil, who had managed to flee, told Reuters: "There was burning and fire and dead bodies everywhere in the city". Lt. Col. Martin O'Donnell said in a statement that Afghan troops had "strongly and swiftly reinforced" the city and "continue to hold their ground and maintain control of all government centers" while clearing operations continued. They hit the city from several points of ingress, attempting to overrun it and expel US -backed forces from the city.
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