KABUL — Taliban insurgent forces launched a fierce pre-dawn attack Friday on the eastern Afghan provincial capital of Ghazni, overrunning government buildings amid heavy fighting before being driven out by U.S.-backed Afghan forces, officials said Friday.
The surprise ground assault was reminiscent of previous concerted Taliban efforts to capture other provincial capitals including Kunduz in the north, Farah in the west and Lashkargah in the south. The attack on Ghazni, the first major urban assault since May, came as Afghan and U.S. officials have been urging the Taliban to begin peace talks and agree to a second cease-fire after a successful three-day truce in June.
Lt. Col. Martin O’Donnell, a spokesman for U.S. forces in Afghanistan, said that the insurgents had attacked “multiple government centers” in Ghazni, a populous city about 100 miles south of Kabul on a major national highway, but that they were driven back. Most of the fighting was over by about 8 a.m.
U.S. attack helicopters aided Afghan forces and there was a drone strike, he added.
A spokesman for President Ashraf Ghani, Shah Hussain Murtazawi, said that by midday Afghan forces were in full control of the city.
There were conflicting reports from residents and local officials, however, with some reporting that Taliban fighters were still roaming parts of the city and that gunfire continued throughout the day, while frightened residents hid in their homes.
Local officials said several hundred Taliban forces had attacked the sleeping city, seized official buildings, burned police posts and announced victory from mosque loud speakers.
There were also conflicting reports of casualties from government and Taliban officials. Afghan officials said only one of its fighters was confirmed killed, but a Taliban spokesman said 140 enemy forces were dead. The Taliban often exaggerate such figures.
Hameedullah Nawroz, a member of the Ghazni provincial council, said Friday that while Afghan forces had pushed most insurgents out, some were still hiding inside homes and buildings in the city and shooting at local forces.
Khodad Urfani, a local member of parliament, said the city had been “on the verge of total collapse” before the Taliban were repelled.
Mohammad Rahim Hassanyar, a senator from Ghazni, said the operation to expel all Taliban fighters was “very slow.” Speaking by from the city in the early afternoon, he said the government had so far failed to send reinforcements, and that if none arrived by nightfall, the city would fall. He said no army troops had arrived and that only police were defending the city.
Sharif Hassan contributed to this story.