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Afghan town recaptured by security forces

GHAZNI, Afghanistan (Reuters) - Afghan security forces along with U.S.-led coalition forces regained control of a district centre in the province of Ghazni after the Taliban had captured it overnight, provincial governor, Shir Khosti told Reuters.

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“The word I have got a few minutes ago is that they (Taliban) have been pushed back,” he said.

Asked if Afghan and coalition forces were now in charge of the district centre, Khosti replied: “Yes”.

Taliban insurgents had seized the remote Afghan town overnight, patrolling the streets for some hours before withdrawing ahead of a government operation to retake it on Friday, residents and officials said.

Ghazni province where the attack took place is only a two-hour drive south from the capital, Kabul, and while not as unstable as provinces such as Kandahar or Helmand, the villages around the historic city of Ghazni have seen an upsurge of Taliban activity in the past two years.

Ghulam Shah, district governor of the captured district of Rashidan, had links with the Taliban and had handed over the district buildings to the militants, provincial Police Chief Khan Mohammad Mujahid told Reuters. The district police chief, meanwhile, had been taken prisoner, he said.

A spokesman for the Taliban, Zabihullah Mujahid, said the insurgents had taken the district by force and had killed nine policemen.

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Governor Khosti denied the Taliban claim saying they had “no reports” of any casualties. He also said he could not yet confirm whether there were any casualties following the joint operation to regain control of the district centre.

The Taliban from time to time take over remote towns in a show of strength, then pull out before government forces are able to reach the area and drive them out.

Khosti played down any significance of the latest incident.

“I don’t think they are getting stronger,” he said. “These are just a bunch of criminals, a bunch of thugs.”

Some 6,000 people were killed last year in the worst violence since U.S.-led and Afghan troops toppled the Taliban in late 2001 for refusing to hand over al Qaeda leaders behind the September 11 attacks on the United States.

The Taliban have vowed to step up their campaign this year to oust the pro-Western Afghan government and drive out more than 60,000 foreign troops from the country, but so far neither side appears to have gained a clear upper hand.

In another incident, eight Afghan construction workers were killed when their vehicle hit an improvised explosive device on Friday in the eastern province of Laghman, Abdul Wakil Atak, spokesman for the provincial governor said.

Additional reporting by Mohammad Rafiq in Jalalabad; Writing by Jonathon Burch; Editing by David Fox