KABUL (Reuters) – President Ashraf Ghani congratulated Afghanistan’s armed forces in Ghazni on Friday for their victory over Taliban insurgents in the strategically important city after clashes that killed at least 150 soldiers and 95 civilians.
The Taliban’s five-day siege of Ghazni eased on Wednesday after Afghan officials declared that they had regained complete control of the city by killing hundreds of Taliban fighters.
Ghani met officials in Ghazni, a central Afghanistan city on the main highway linking the capital, Kabul, with the south, to assess security, and also met families of the victims and prayed for the deceased.
“I am here to help all those who have suffered losses, I am committed to build the city and also do everything to protect Ghazni,” Ghani said after arriving in the city.
“Our soldiers have fought bravely and we stand committed to bringing peace,” he said.
The assault on Ghazni exposed the fragile grip Ghani’s Western-backed government has on security and its apparent inability to prevent large-scale attacks.
It also came as Ghani’s government and its international partners had been pushing for a second cease-fire during next week’s Eid holiday.
Thousands of Taliban insurgents entered Ghazni after destroying checkpoints, killing dozens of Afghan soldiers and police officers, cutting communications and the highway.
Police retreated after the assailants captured government offices and police headquarters, a senior security official in Kabul said. The insurgents roamed freely around Ghazni, destroyed shops, forced civilians to cook, and used some as human shields during the clashes.
Afghan soldiers, backed by U.S. forces, drove the Taliban fighters out of the once-bustling city, which lay in a shambles, after five days of fighting.
Officials working in the presidential palace said the devastation and trauma inflicted on thousands of Ghazni residents required urgent domestic and international support.
“The five-day war has come to an end but the complex process of rebuilding the city and protecting it from fresh attacks begins now,” said a senior official in Ghani’s office in Kabul.
International aid organisations said medical supplies, food and water would be provided to thousands of residents and that ambulances were transporting the wounded to hospitals.
“Several wounded civilians were forced to sit inside homes as they could not come to the hospital during the clashes, we are now treating them,” said Saiyed Ahmed, a doctor at the Ghazni provincial hospital.
(Reporting by Rupam Jain; Editing by Paul Tait)