Taliban fighters tried to overrun a provincial capital in Afghanistan early on Friday, hiding inside homes before slipping into city streets in the night to attack security forces and killing at least 14 policemen before being pushed back, officials said.
The overnight attack in the southeastern city of Ghazni, the capital of a province with the same name, also wounded at least 20 members of the security forces, said Baz Mohammad Hemat, the administrator of the Ghazni city hospital, reports AP.
Another Taliban attack, this one on Thursday night in western Herat province, left six policemen dead in the district of Obe, according to the governor's spokesman, Gelani Farhad.
The brazen assaults by the Taliban, who have been gaining more ground in their annual spring offensive and who have shrugged off the government's latest offers of a cease-fire and negotiations, underscore the difficulties Afghan forces face in battling the relentless insurgency on their own in efforts to end the nearly 17-year war.
In Ghazni, the attack began around 2:00am with intense gunbattles raging and fires burning in several shops in the city's residential areas, provincial police chief Farid Ahmad Mashal told The Associated Press.
After repulsing the daring assault, police conducted house-to-house searches for any remaining Taliban fighters. An investigation as also underway on how the insurgents had managed to infiltrate so deep into the city, barely 120 kilometers (75 miles) south of the Afghan capital of Kabul.
Hemat, the hospital administrator, said two wounded civilians were also brought to the hospital but that the city was shut down and that ambulances were not being sent out.
Mashal said there were more than 100 other casualties but he could not give a breakdown of the dead and wounded. Most of the casualties were Taliban, he said.
Several bodies of dead Taliban fighters remained on the street after government forced pushed the insurgents from Ghazni, the police chief said. Bodies of 39 Taliban fighters were recovered from beneath a bridge in the southern edge of the city.
Airstrikes called in to quash the offensive also killed dozens of Taliban, Mashal said. Defence Ministry spokesman Mohammad Radmanish said the army had helped the police and that the city was brought under control of government forces.
Lt. Col. Martin O'Donnell, a spokesman for US forces in Afghanistan, said American forces and US attack helicopters assisted Afghan troops in pushing back the Taliban during the night's multiple attacks in Ghazni.