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Afghan president visits key city, week after Taliban raid

August 17, 2018

Afghan men stand near a damaged house following a Taliban attack in Ghazni, Afghanistan, Wednesday, Aug. 15, 2018. A Taliban assault on two adjacent checkpoints in northern Afghanistan killed at least 30 soldiers and police, officials said Wednesday. Life gradually returned to normal in parts of the eastern city of Ghazni after a massive insurgent attack last week, with sporadic gunbattles still underway in some neighborhoods. (AP Photo/Rahmatullah Nikzad)

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — The Afghan president visited the embattled southeastern city of Ghazni on Friday, a week after the Taliban in a surprise attack managed to infiltrate deep into the key provincial capital and capture several areas of it.

Two rockets hit inside the city as President Ashraf Ghani held a meeting with elders at a nearby mosque, witnesses said. A third rocket landed in a nearby river, they said, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the media.

There were no injuries and Ghani was never in any danger. No one claimed responsibility for firing the rockets.

The Taliban hung on in Ghazni for nearly five days before U.S.-backed Afghan forces flushed them out in what were some of the fiercest battles with the insurgents in recent months that killed scores of Afghan troops and civilians.

Security was on high alert as Ghani arrived by helicopter in Ghazni, the capital of Ghazni province, just 120 kilometers (75 miles) from the capital, Kabul. Mohammad Khan, the deputy of the country’s Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah, accompanied Ghani on the trip.

They immediately went into meetings with security officials and elders. In a speech, Khan said greater security was needed around district capitals, as well as the provincial capital, and questioned the strength of defense trenches dug around vulnerable areas.

Afghan helicopters also patrolled overhead as the president visited, police official Bilal Ahmad said.

In Kabul, the U.N. office for humanitarian assistance said fighting was continuing on Ghazni’s outskirts. According to a report by OCHA, released late Thursday, water and electricity have yet to be restored in many areas of the city of 270,000 people.

The five-day battles with the Taliban in Ghazni, killed at least 100 members of Afghan security forces and 35 civilians before calm was restored on Tuesday. The OCHA report quotes “unverifiable numbers” that put the civilian death toll at more than 200.

Abdul Halim Noori, the head of the Afghan Red Crescent in Ghazni, said six of their teams are still sifting through the rubble in the city, searching for bodies. So far, the aid group has retrieved 270 bodies but there was no breakdown or indication how many were Afghan security troops, Taliban fighters or civilians.

In one home, they found bodies of 11 members of a single family, Noori told The Associated Press.

Even though they were pushed back from the city, the Taliban still hold sway in much of Ghazni province.

During the fighting, the Taliban destroyed the main telecommunication tower, just outside of Ghazni, and torched the television and radio station in the city. According to the OCHA report, mobile phone connection was gradually returning but outages remain frequent.

Elsewhere in Afghanistan on Friday, the Taliban ambushed and killed five local policemen in northern Baghlan province, according to Ekramuddin Sarih, the provincial chief police.

He said the policemen were patrolling on foot near their security post in the provincial capital of Puli Khumri.

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This story has been corrected to show that Mohammad Khan, the deputy of the country’s Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah, accompanied Ghani on the trip, not Abdullah. 

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