U.S. called in as Taliban overrun Afghan city

U.S. Central Command commander Gen. Jospeh Votel testifies at the Senate Committee on Armed Services on Capitol Hill in Washington

Officials said Afghan special forces were also being deployed to the southeastern city of Ghazni after the latest attempt by the Taliban to capture an urban centre, with the assault coming as pressure builds on the insurgents to enter peace talks.

Airstrikes called in to quash the offensive also killed dozens of Taliban, Mashal said.

The attack came amid growing hopes of talks to end 17 years of war in Afghanistan and less than two weeks before the Eid al-Adha festival, when the Western-backed government in Kabul had been considering offering a ceasefire. Most of the casualties were Taliban, he said.

Muhammad Radmanish, a spokesman for the ministry of defence, said 27 Afghan soldiers were killed and five wounded.

At least one Afghan soldier has been killed and seven others wounded in the fighting, provincial governor spokesman Arif Noori said.

United States attack helicopters and drone aircraft provided government forces with air support.

"U.S. forces responded with close-air support and conducted one drone strike", O'Donnell said. "The whole city is under the control of Afghan forces", Brig.

"This is yet another failed Taliban attempt to seize terrain, which will result in yet another eye-catching but strategically inconsequential headline", he said.

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

The Taliban have stepped up attacks across the country since North Atlantic Treaty Organisation and the United States formally ended their combat mission in 2014.

He later told the Associated Press, however, that continued fighting had required USA aircraft to return to the city in a "show of presence".

The attack on Ghazni, the first major urban assault since May, came as Afghan and USA officials have been urging the Taliban to begin peace talks and agree to a second cease-fire after a successful three-day truce in June.

Andrew Wilder, vice president of Asia programs at the U.S. Institute of Peace, said the attack by the insurgents was "a well-timed effort to demonstrate their military power to strengthen their negotiating position prior to another cease-fire and in the event of peace talks". The Taliban have rebuffed offers of negotiations with the government but have held one preliminary round of direct talks with Alice Wells, Washington's top diplomat for South and Central Asia, including Afghanistan. "In addition, US aircraft conducted a show of presence", Lt Col. Martin O'Donnell, spokesman for US Forces-Afghanistan, said in an emailed statement.

On August 6, the Financial Times reported that Chinese officials had reportedly met the Afghan Taliban several times in the past year.

An unprecedented truce in June brought fighting between security forces and the Taliban to a temporary halt, giving war-weary Afghans some welcome relief from violence.

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