Afghan soldiers killed in latest battlefield reversal

Afghan soldiers keep watch at a checkpoint on the Ghazni to Kabul highway

The attack, which came as the central city of Ghazni struggles to recover from five days of intense fighting, underlined how hard the insurgents have been pressuring badly stretched local security forces. Interior Minister Wais Ahmad Barmak said almost 70 police were killed.

High-ranking Taliban officials told the Guardian on Monday that the meeting with senior US State Department official Alice Wells in Qatar on July 23 was "very helpful" and could eventually pave the way for Taliban sitting down with the Afghan leadership. "Mounting civilian casualties show beyond any doubt that Afghanistan and, in particular, its capital, Kabul, are not safe".

The head of the United Nations children's agency says children continue to be hardest hit in the growing violence across Afghanistan and is calling the latest attack on a Shiite class in Kabul which killed or critically wounded dozens of children "deplorable".

Those assaults came as a battle in strategic Ghazni wound down after the Taliban withdrew with hundreds killed on both sides.

"The city became so risky", the 60-year-old Mustafa told The Associated Press while stopped briefly at a checkpoint where police searched for wounded Taliban fighters.

Several police centers that were overrun and destroyed by the militants have resumed operation, he said.

Residents "have seen their city turn into a battlefield since Friday morning, with fighting and clashes reportedly still ongoing".

Mujahid, the Taliban spokesman, denied the insurgents have been routed from Ghazni and said sporadic gunbattles were still ongoing.

U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said the Taliban's use of civilian homes as fighting positions is forcing Afghan government forces to move slowly in expelling the insurgents from Ghazni.

Tadamichi Yamamoto, the UN's Special Representative for Afghanistan, made an appeal on Wednesday for violence to end.

A 14-year-old girl who goes by only one name, Fereshta, said the infiltration of the city was the first time in her life that she had seen a member of the Taliban.

The violence underlined how an emboldened Taliban - which was ousted by American forces after the September 11, 2001, attacks on the US - has been pressing its advantage throughout the country.

Security forces were on patrol and no militants were in sight in the centre of the shattered city, with fighting which began late Thursday seeming to have finally ceased.

Many could not flee because the Taliban had mined key routes out of the city. Speculation grew after 1,000 Taliban militants outfought 4,000 heavily armed government troops. "My children would cry when they heard booms and sounds of firing by Taliban from behind our wall".

Ghani announced a two-week unilateral truce during Eid in June. Islamic State extremists have in the past targeted Shiite Muslim Hazaras, who they consider apostates.

"Problems exist inside Afghanistan, there should be better coordination between the security forces and the worldwide forces and they should prevent such attacks", said MP Mirdad Khan Nejrabi. But the Taliban since have escalated their attacks and refused to hold talks with the government.

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