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Taliban storm Afghanistan’s Ghazni, seize parts of city

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South China Morning Post

Kabul, Aug 10 : The Taliban launched a massive offensive in Afghanistan’s Ghazni city on Friday amid reports of multiple casualties even as heavy fighting continued between the government forces and militants.

Afghan soldiers fought back as militants converged from four sides of the city, resulting in several deaths on all sides, Ghazni provincial government spokesman Mohammad Arif Noori said.

Sporadic gunfire could still be heard in the provincial city as Afghan forces exchanged fire with militants. The spokesperson said that a group of Taliban fighters who had made their way into the city were holed up near the provincial police headquarters and were firing on the building, CNN reported.

Noori claimed that Ghazni security forces managed to drive out most of the Taliban forces from the city centre but as per reports, residents in several neighbourhoods said that heavy fighting was ongoing around them.

Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid said in a statement to the media that the Taliban entered Ghazni city around 1 a.m. and captured a number of strategic sites within the city.

“Hundreds of Mujahedeen entered the city, captured the police headquarters and all six police districts and an important military base, Bala Hesar,” he said.

“Attacks were underway on the governor’s office, the National Directorate for Security (Afghan intelligence agency) headquarters and other government offices,” he said, adding that more than 140 Afghan soldiers were killed.

One resident Nasir Ahmad Faqiri told the New York Times that the militants were fighting with “their whole power”.

“There are Taliban militants in all roads and streets of the city, but they are facing strong resistance from government forces,” he said.

The Ghazni attack was the second assault on an Afghan city this year. In May, insurgents overran the western city of Farah, but they left a day later amid counterattacks from the Afghan government and American airstrikes.

The Afghan government had unilaterally called off a ceasefire with the militant group that it had in place for Eid ul-Fitr, the holiday marking the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

In a tweet, US Forces Afghanistan called the attack a “failed attempt to seize terrain”, saying that Afghan forces were able to maintain control of government buildings.

“US Forces responded with close-air support this morning 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 read.

IANS

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Clashes between Taliban and Afghan security forces kills 466

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Kabul, Aug 14 :At least 466 people, including 40 civilians, have been killed in ongoing clashes between the Taliban and Afghan security forces in Ghazni city as the Islamist group launched an offensive to seize control of the eastern Afghan city five days ago.

“Taliban deaths increased to 326 while we have 100 security forces martyred, among them 70 policemen. Up to 40 civilians have also been killed,” Defence Ministry spokesperson Ghafoor Ahmad Javid said.

Javid said the casualties had increased from 325 on Monday to 466 as the Afghan security forces, with support from the US Air Force, have been clearing the city and forcing the insurgents to the outskirts.

The data on civilian casualties was still preliminary and the exact number would be released after operations to clear the city of remaining insurgents was complete, he said.

“All areas inside the city are cleared of the Taliban fighters and currently the operation is focused on the western and northern outskirts of the city.”

Javid said the priority for authorities was to provide food and water to the approximately 270,000 residents of Ghazni.

They were also working to restore telecommunication services, electricity and water distribution services, which have been severely disrupted.

This has been the heaviest Taliban offensive on a provincial capital since the brief occupation of the western city of Farah in May.

In 2015, the Taliban seized the northern city of Kunduz and held out for several days.

In 2016, the Taliban surrounded and managed to enter Trinkot, the capital of Uruzgan province, and Lashkargah — the capital of Helmand — but in both cases they were able to maintain control for only a few days.

According to information released in 2017 by the US, the Afghan government controls about 56 per cent of the country and the Taliban 11 per cent, while the rest of the territory is under dispute.

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Car Crashes Outside UK Parliament in Suspected Terror Attack

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London, Aug 14:A car crashed into security barriers outside the UK House of Parliament on Tuesday injuring number of  cyclists and pedestrians and the driver  was arrested on suspicion of terrorism offences .

The Metropolitan Police’s Counter Terrorism Command is investigating an incident in Westminster this morning during which a number of people were injured.

Armed police swooped on the scene moments after the vehicle collided with the barriers at 7.37 a.m, pointing their weapons at the vehicle before a male driver in his late 20s emerged.

Though he has not yet been identified, the man is not thought to be previously known to security services, according to Neil Basu, the U.K.’s counter-terrorism police chief.

He was detained and taken to a police station in south London where he remains in custody.
London Ambulance Service said it had taken two patients to hospital with non-life threatening injuries after cyclists and pedestrians were hit. A third patient with minor injuries was assessed at the scene. No one else was in the car and no weapons were found, the police said.

The decision to treat the incident as “terrorist” was made for several reasons, including CCTV recovered by the police showing the vehicle driving at pedestrians and civilians, outside an iconic site, which is seen as a high-profile target for terrorist attacks, reports said.

Westminster tube station was closed and streets around Millbank, Parliament Square and Victoria Tower Gardens were cordoned off. The nearby Strutton Ground was also closed to the public.

“My thoughts are with those injured and my thanks to the emergency services for their immediate and courageous response,” said Prime Minister Theresa May.

The Houses of Parliament, as it is known, are surrounded with security barriers of steel and concrete. The measures were extended after the Westminster Bridge attack in March 2017 when a Khalid Masood ploughed a car into crowds on the bridge, killing four people.

Masood abandoned his car and then stabbed and killed an unarmed police officer, Keith Palmer, before he was shot by police in a courtyard outside Parliament.

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Pakistan celebrates Independence Day

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Islamabad, Aug 14 : People all across Pakistan on Tuesday celebrated the country’s 72nd Independence Day.

As the clock struck midnight, fireworks began across the county while buildings were lit up to celebrate Independence Day.

The day-long festivities began with thanksgiving prayers and the hoisting of the national flag at all important public buildings in the country, which had been decorated with bunting and lights ahead of August 14, reports Dawn online.

The day began with a 31-gun salute in the capital, followed by 21-gun salutes in all four provincial capitals.

Pakistan Rangers officials at the Wagah border crossing exchanged sweets with Indian Border Security Force personnel.

The main ceremony will be hosted at the Islamabad’s Convention Centre, where President Mamnoon Hussain is expected to hoist the national flag. Caretaker Prime Minister Nasirul Mulk, the three chiefs of the armed forces and other notable personalities will be in attendance.

Change-of-guard ceremonies were also held at the mausoleums of Quaid-i-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah and Allama Iqbal in Karachi and Lahore, respectively.

People across the country flocked to stalls that lined up streets to purchase national flags in different sizes, t-shirts, badges and other merchandise to display their national pride.

IANS

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