UPDATE: LATEST FROM THE GROUND, US INVOLVEMENT, CASUALTY FIGURES
By Shadi Khan Saif
KABUL, Afghanistan (AA) – Afghan forces claim to push the advancing Taliban out of Ghazni city by Friday evening with support of the U.S air power after hours of deadly clashes.Armed Taliban militants stormed a city in east-central Afghanistan overnight Friday, setting fire to a number of checkpoints after engaging in deadly clashes with government forces, officials and local media confirmed.Arif Noori, spokesman for the governor of Ghazni province, told Anadolu Agency the clashes began around midnight Thursday (1930GMT). “The Afghan Air Force has also been called in to target the advancing Taliban rebels,” he said, adding that efforts were being made to avoid civilian casualties in air and ground operations.Mohammad Radmanesh, spokesman for the Ministry of Defense, informed Anadolu Agency more than 100 Taliban have been killed in air and ground offensives, and the rebels have been pushed out of the city centre. Health officials have confirmed at least 14 casualties of the security forces.A number of Ghazni residents said telecommunication was cut-off and sounds of heavy explosions and gunfight rocked the city.Zabihullah Mujahed, the Taliban spokesman, claimed in a tweet that up to 25 checkpoints were overrun, “scores” of government soldiers killed, and an “enemy helicopter” shot down during the ongoing clashes involving hundreds of militants.The U.S. forces also responded with close-air support in Ghazni. “Afghan forces held their ground and maintain control of all government centres. Another ‘failed attempt’ by Taliban to seize terrain, while creating strategically inconsequential headlines,” it noted in a statement.Provincial police chief Farid Ahmad Mashal took to Facebook to post a live video from the frontline showing graphic images of the rebels killed in the exchange of fire.Located some 150 kilometers from the capital Kabul, the city of Ghazni is situated on the main highway connecting it with the country’s southern and western provinces. Local Azadi Radio reported that provincial officials have long warned security higher-ups of an imminent assault on the city.