Taliban 'pushed back' after attack on Afghanistan's Ghazni

Smoke rises into the air after Taliban militants launched an attack on the Afghan provincial capital Ghazni

Heavily armed Taliban fighters attacked Ghazni city in central Afghanistan early on Friday, shelling houses and business areas and gaining control of parts of the city centre, officials said.

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 US military's Resolute Support mission said it had deployed attack helicopters and a drone to help repel the Taliban from Ghazni, which has about 150,000 residents.

Residents who spoke to Agence France-Presse (AFP) said power has been cut to the area since fighting erupted, with heavy gunfire ringing out across the city and a government building set on fire. Most of the fighting was over by about 8 a.m.

"U.S. Forces responded with close-air support this morning in #Ghazni", the official account for US Forces in Afghanistan tweeted Friday.

He later told the Associated Press, however, that continued fighting had required USA aircraft to return to the city in a "show of presence".

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The Afghan Defense Ministry also told AP that one of its helicopters had crashed during the fighting but it was not clear if it had been shot down.

Another resident, Yasan, said the Taliban were using loudspeakers at the mosque to warn residents to stay in their homes.

Bodies of 39 Taliban fighters were recovered from beneath a bridge in the southern edge of the city.

As helicopters circled overhead in the early morning, a second government official said it was too unsafe for people to leave their homes and he had no immediate details on casualties.

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

An unprecedented truce in June brought fighting between security forces and the Taliban to a temporary halt, giving war-weary Afghans some welcome relief from violence.

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The US said that the city remained under government control.

Mohammad Rahim Hassanyar, a senator from Ghazni, said the operation to expel all Taliban fighters was "very slow".

"So far 140 enemy forces have been killed or wounded", the group said. He said no army troops had arrived and that only police were defending the city.

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.

The Taliban has long insisted on direct talks with the United States.

Pompeo also said the role of foreign forces in Afghanistan would be on the table.

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