Govt forces in control of embattled Afghan city: officials

The attack on Ghazni is the largest tactical onslaught by the Taliban since an unprecedented truce in June brought fighting between security forces and the Taliban to a brief halt

Afghan officials said security forces were in control of the eastern city of Ghazni on Saturday, more than a day after Taliban fighters launched a major onslaught on the provincial capital and as reinforcements continued a clearance operation targeting the militants.

Interior ministry spokesman Najib Danish said fresh reinforcements had arrived in the area and were battling Taliban fighters north of Ghazni, promising that the insurgents were in no position to take control of the city.

"The situation is fully under control. The city is not going to fall," Danish told a press conference, after confusion mounted over the fate of the city following hours of official silence.

A spokesman for US forces in Afghanistan also described the fight for Ghazni as a clearance operation, with sporadic clashes between security forces and insurgents punctuating relative calm.

"The fact remains that the Taliban are unable to seize terrain and unable to match the Afghan security forces or our enablement, retreating once directly and decisively engaged," Lt. Colonel Martin O'Donnell told AFP.

Insurgents entered Ghazni from several directions late Thursday night, attacking media offices and damaging a telecommunications tower, effectively shutting off mobile service to the city as of Friday afternoon -- making information about the fight difficult to verify.

An MP from Ghazni urged caution following Danish's press conference, saying heavy clashes continued to rage between the two sides.

"Intense fighting is still ongoing in Ghazni city. The prison is under attack from several directions, they are trying to free the prisoners," said Nafisa Azimi by telephone from Kabul.

"The fear is spreading in Ghazni as the day ends, the Taliban might intensify their attack as it gets dark," Azimi added.

Danish said at least 25 security forces had died in the fighting along with 150 Taliban fighters. At least one media worker from a local broadcaster was also killed.

Earlier Saturday the Taliban claimed victory in the fight for the embattled city, saying their forces were in control of Ghanzi after routing Afghan troops.

"Last night, our mujahideen have completely conquered a battalion in Ghazni, seizing weapons and ammunitions and four pickup trucks," said Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid in a message to journalists.

"Our mujahideen are protecting the city of Ghazni."

The insurgents frequently exaggerate their battlefield gains and downplay losses incurred during fighting.

Ghazni -- less than two hours by road from Kabul -- has been under increasing danger from massing Taliban fighters for months with reports suggesting insurgents had already infiltrated the city.

The attack was the latest attempt by the Taliban to seize an urban centre and comes as pressure mounts on the insurgents to enter peace talks with the government to end the nearly 17-year-old war.