GHAZNI -- Afghan forces Friday (August 10) launched a clearing operation in search of Taliban fighters who attempted a major assault on Ghazni city, after coalition air strikes pushed back the insurgents.
"The enemies were pushed back from Ghazni city, and about 150 of them were either killed or wounded," the Afghan Defence Ministry said in a statement on Friday.
"Unfortunately, the enemy is now hiding in [civilians'] homes in [the 4th police district], and clearing operations continue," said the statement.
Afghan special forces were deployed to 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.
The complex nature of the attack was unprecedented in its scale, said Ghazni residents.
Civilian houses and army check-points came under mortar attack and the bodies of dozens of Taliban fighters were in the streets, provincial governor's spokesman Arif Noori said.
The fighting had "ceased" as of Friday morning, hours after the insurgents began the assault late Thursday (August 9) from several positions around the city, said a spokesman for US Forces Afghanistan.
However, sporadic gunfire continued to echo into the afternoon amid intermittent clashes, with officials telling residents to stay in their homes as scattered Taliban fighters roamed the streets.
Power has been cut to the area since fighting erupted.
"Initial reports indicate minimal Afghan security force casualties," the US spokesman later told AFP, adding that American forces deployed attack helicopters and conducted a drone strike in response.
At least 16 Afghans were killed in the fighting, including 14 soldiers and two residents, said Baz Mohammad Himmat, director of the civilian hospital in Ghazni.
The Taliban suffered heavy casualties in the onslaught, said a spokesman for President Ashraf Ghani who confirmed the air strikes.
The Taliban issued a statement claiming to have captured "most of the government buildings inside the city", and to have killed or wounded 140 troops.
The insurgents frequently exaggerate their battlefield gains and downplay losses incurred during the fighting.
"US forces responded with close-air support this morning in #Ghazni," the official account for US Forces Afghanistan tweeted Friday.
"Afghan forces held their ground and maintain control of all govt. centers. Another failed attempt by Taliban to seize terrain while creating strategically inconsequential headlines," it said.
The attack on Ghazni mirrors a similar assault in May, when the Taliban attacked Farah city. After a day of intense fighting, Afghan commandos and coalition air strikes drove the group to the outskirts of Farah city, killing as many as 300 militants.
The insurgents have so far ignored an offer by Ghani in February of unconditional peace negotiations.
However, there are tentative signs that diplomatic efforts to bring the militants to the table for peace talks may be starting to bear fruit.
The Taliban have long insisted on direct talks with the United States. Washington has repeatedly refused, saying negotiations must be Afghan-led.
Friday's attack might have been aimed at securing maximum leverage before engagement in formal peace talks, said Kabul-based analyst Haroun Mir.
"They [the Taliban] want to enter the talks from the position of strength, and they want to capture big cities before potential peace negotiations," said Mir.
Anticipation has meanwhile been mounting about the possibility of a government ceasefire announcement for Eid ul Adha (August 21-23).
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.
How likely are the Taliban to hold direct peace talks with the Afghan government before presidential elections in July?