Taliban launch attacks on approaches to Afghan city of Ghazni

GHAZNI, Afghanistan (Reuters) - Clashes have broken out between Taliban militants and government forces in Afghanistan forcing some civilians to flee from their homes near the city of Ghazni, which the insurgents stormed this month, officials said on Friday.

The Taliban raided three villages on the outskirts of Ghazni late on Thursday, destroying some newly built checkpoints and cutting off power to some parts of the city.

Provincial police chief Farid Mashal said government forces counter-attacked to block the insurgents from approaching the city.

“We were swift to push the Taliban out of the villages, but many civilians fled to neighboring villages fearing the fighters could kill them,” said Mashal. He said there were no reports of casualties.

More than 1,000 Taliban fighters assaulted the city, 150 km (95 miles) southwest of Kabul, on the main road to southern Afghanistan, this month killing at least 150 soldiers and 95 civilians.

Militants roamed the city for four days, destroying communications towers and cutting power and water supplies before government forces regained control with the help of U.S. air strikes.

The government and international aid agencies have been struggling to restore services in the city over recent days.

The latest clashes came days after President Ashraf Ghani offered the Taliban a three-month ceasefire but the insurgents rejected it, two senior militant commanders said, and vowed to maintain their attacks on the government and its foreign allies.

Repeated assaults on Ghazni has exposed the fragile grip Ghani’s Western-backed government has on security and its apparent inability to prevent large-scale militant attacks.

Ghani has ordered an investigation into the attacks and announced disbursement of $20 million for immediate relief and reconstruction process.

The Taliban are fighting to expel foreign forces, defeat the government and impose their version of Islamist rule.

Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid said on Friday the militants had not given up any ground during recent clashes.

“Even more areas have been liberated from the grip of occupation,” he said in a statement.

Additional reporting Jibran Ahmad, writing by Rupam Jain, Editing by Robert Birsel