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Both Sides Claim Control of Key Afghan City After Taliban Attack

Category: Asia,World

KABUL, Afghanistan — A day after the Taliban in Afghanistan made a large-scale attack in an effort to overrun the southeastern city of Ghazni, both the government and the insurgents claimed to be in control.

The city is cut off and only sketchy reports are emerging about what happened there, but both sides conceded that the fighting that began on Friday was continuing. Communication towers were reportedly destroyed, and telephone networks have been shut down for nearly 24 hours.

Ghazni is a strategic city that controls the main highway between Kabul, the capital, and the country’s second-largest city, Kandahar. If the Taliban control Ghazni, they would essentially have cut off the traditional Taliban homelands in the south from northern Afghanistan and the capital.

“Reinforcements from Kandahar were stuck in the Muqur District of Ghazni, but late at night they managed to enter the city,” said Dawoud Ahmadi, a spokesman for the governor in Kandahar. “The Taliban planted mines at all entrances to Ghazni and they have brought down the communication system, so it’s very hard to get updates from the city.”

Taliban sources had little to say on Saturday, other than claiming to have destroyed many checkpoints in the city and continuing to fight. The Taliban spokesman, Zabihullah Mujahid, did claim in a Twitter post that the insurgents had “liberated” the prison, releasing everyone inside. He did not say how many, but other reports put the number at 350.

Afghan reinforcements traveling to Ghazni from Gardez, to the east, and from Kabul, to the north, encountered repeated ambushes, destroyed bridges and delays. A pro-government militia commander, Ali Zafar, who was guarding a portion of Highway 1 in Maidan Wardak Province, between Kabul and Ghazni, said on Saturday that his positions had been repeatedly attacked by the Taliban, but that his group had managed to keep the road open for a reinforcement convoy of 150 vehicles.

“Today the road is blocked and yesterday they blew up a bridge on the highway, but that was after the reinforcement convoy passed,” he said. “The situation in both Ghazni and Maidan Wardak is not good.”

A spokesman for the 203rd Corps in Gardez, Maj. Mohammad Farooq, said, “Our forces have reached Ghazni safely, and they didn’t encounter any resistance on the way.”

Other than the reports that reinforcements had arrived in the city, there was little information about the situation there.

Ahmad Farid Omary, the head of Ghaznawyan TV, a Ghazni station, said most broadcasters were forced off the air because their employees had fled the fighting. The only broadcaster still operating, Mr. Omary said, was Shariat Radio, a Taliban station, which was using a mobile van to stay on the air.

“Reinforcements got to the city yesterday, but they haven’t started fighting,” Mr. Omary said. He said that many Taliban fighters had taken refuge in people’s homes, but that government forces were preparing a counterattack to recover lost ground.

One provincial councilman from Ghazni, Hamikdullah Nawroz, who would not give his own location for his personal safety, said by telephone on Saturday: “Most of the old part of the city is under the Taliban control today. There is no intense fighting in the city today, but the Taliban are in the city and 70 percent of the city is under the Taliban control.

“Yesterday they controlled 100 percent of the city except for the governor’s office and the Police Headquarters.”

While reinforcements were arriving, Mr. Nawroz said, there had been no sign of a government counterattack.

Follow Rod Nordland on Twitter: @rodnordland.

Jawad Sukhanyar contributed reporting from Kabul, Afghanistan, Farooq Jan Mangal from Khost, Afghanistan, and Taimoor Shah from Kandahar, Afghanistan.


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