The radical Islamist group hid in houses before launching the early-morning attack. Afghan security forces say they have repelled the group with US air support, yet sporadic fighting continues amid clearing operations.
At roughly 2 a.m. on Friday, Taliban fighters hiding in private residencies around the Afghan provincial capital of Ghazni rushed out into the streets and began a multi-pronged attack on the city.
Clashes with Afghan security forces continued throughout the night and into Friday afternoon. Heavy gunfire and bomb blasts rocked the city, located 120 kilometers (75 miles) south of Kabul, cutting off power and trapping residents in their homes.
Afghan security forces were able to repel the offensive with US air support, but not before the Taliban cut off all communication to the city by destroying the city's telecommunications tower. It also set fire to the offices of the local television station.
A clearing operation is currently ongoing, however, the fact that Taliban fighters are hiding in people's homes has made for slow going. Residents and shopkeepers in the city say they are terrified and report that the Taliban had used the loudspeakers at the local mosque to warn them to stay inside.
Bodies on the streets but no ambulances
Reports are conflicting as to the number of dead with initial reports ranging from 16 to hundreds. Reliable numbers are not expected for some time as streets in Ghazi remain closed, keeping ambulances away. Witnesses report scores of dead Taliban lining the streets. The Afghan Defense Ministry in Kabul said some 150 attackers had been killed in the clashes that followed the initial attack.
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid claimed his group had seized parts of the city, killed dozens of Afghan soldiers, seized large quantities of weapons and downed an "enemy" helicopter. The Afghan army confirmed that four soldiers were injured when their helicopter crash-landed but did not say what caused the crash.
'Another failed attempt by the Taliban'
US Forces in Afghanistan Spokesman Lt. Col. Martin O'Donnell took to Twitter to announce that "US Forces responded with close-air support." In the same tweet, O'Donnell called the attack "[another] failed attempt by the Taliban to seize terrain, while creating strategically inconsequential headlines."
Show of strength
The attack is seen by many as a show of strength by the Taliban before upcoming parliamentary elections in the country in October. The group has consistently stepped up attacks across the country in the absence of US and NATO forces after both formally ended their combat missions in 2014.
US and NATO contingencies remain in Afghanistan in a support and training capacity. Roughly 16,000 NATO troops are currently stationed in Afghanistan as part of its Resolute Support Mission (RSM) launched in 2015. The US still has about 15,000 service members deployed there. The current war in Afghanistan is now in its seventeenth year.
Attacks amid peace negotiations
In February, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani opened the prospect of peace talks to the Taliban but his offer was turned down. Last month, however, talks were initiated between representatives from the Taliban and the United States. Nevertheless, the Taliban has continued to conduct attacks while in negotiations with the US.
Last week, an attack on an army post outside Ghazni killed dozens of soldiers. On Thursday, as the latest Ghazni offensive began, an attack in the western province of Heart killed six police officers.
js/rc (AP, AFP, dpa)