(Xinhua/AFP)

GHAZNI - At least 10 Afghan soldiers and 44 Taliban militants have been killed after clashes broke out in four districts of eastern province of Ghazni overnight, an army source said Wednesday.

The clashes started after militants launched a massive coordinated attack against security checkpoints in Andar, Gilan, Zana Khan and Jaghato districts around the provincial capital of Ghanzi city after midnight, Gen Shohuor Gul, commander of army’s 203 Tandar based in the region, told Xinhua.

“The brave army soldiers and police fought back the attackers and the initial information showed that 44 Taliban militants, including two divisional Taliban commanders named Mawlawi Furqan and Abdul Salaam, were killed and eight militants were injured,” Gul added.

“The sporadic clashes continued until Wednesday morning but the security situation was under control of security forces and normality has returned in the districts,” he said.

The Taliban-led insurgency has been on the rampage since the beginning of 2015 when the Afghan security forces assumed full responsibilities of security from the U.S. and NATO troops. The Taliban militants also intensified attacks against security forces across the country after they launched a yearly rebel offensive on April 25.

On Tuesday, at least five civilians, 25 soldiers and nearly 300 militants were killed after Taliban launched a massive attack against Farah city, capital of western Farah province.

Meanwhile, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani apologised Wednesday to the families of civilians, mainly children, killed when the country’s air force sprayed an outdoor religious gathering with rockets and machine gun fire last month.

The April 2 airstrike on a ceremony attended by hundreds of men and boys in Dasht-e-Archi district - a Taliban stronghold in the northern province of Kunduz - left at least 36 people dead including 30 children, a United Nations investigation has shown.

Seventy-one people were wounded, including 51 children, it said, adding that it had “credible information” the tolls could be even higher.

Originally the government and military had said the Afghan Air Force targeted a Taliban base where senior members of the group were planning attacks.

The defence ministry initially denied any civilians had been hurt, then claimed the Taliban had shot them. On Wednesday Ghani met families as well as local elders and apologised, a statement from the presidential palace said. “(T)he difference between evildoers and a legitimate government is that a legitimate government apologises for the mistakes made,” he said, according to the statement.

He also vowed that the government would pay compensation to the families, and build a minaret in memory of the victims as well as a mosque for the region. The statement gave no further details. The UN investigators could not confirm if the casualties were all civilians or whether Taliban leaders had been present at the time of the air strike. They have called for further investigations.

The government has sent two teams to conduct an investigation into the incident but so far neither team has “publicly reported their findings”, the UN said.

Meanwhile, Afghan commandos and the US air force have driven the Taliban to the outskirts of Farah, officials said Wednesday, after a day-long battle to prevent the insurgents from seizing control of the western provincial capital.

The US carried out more drone strikes overnight and the Afghan army is still clearing the city, Afghan and NATO officials said. Shops, offices and schools remain closed, with residents frightened to leave home after hours of heavy fighting. A NATO spokesman warned there could be more fighting Wednesday.

“The Taliban have retreated from the city and positioned their forces in the outskirts,” provincial council member Dadullah Qani told AFP from Farah Wednesday.

Fighting continued late into the night, he said. “The city is still closed as people are in fear.”

With internet and mobile networks patchy, casualty figures were difficult to verify. On Tuesday, the defence ministry said four soldiers and “dozens” of insurgents had been killed.

Reinforcements including special forces were rushed in from Herat and Kandahar as the fighting began late Monday.

Aref Rezaee, a spokesman for the Afghan army’s 207th Corps, said that with their help the Taliban were forced from the city at around midnight, some 24 hours after residents told AFP the initial assault began.

“We have started a clearing operation. (NATO’S) RS (Resolute Support mission) forces are also deployed in Farah airport. They were involved in providing air support,” he said.

A Resolute Support spokesman said the fighting had been “subdued” overnight but was likely to pick up again Wednesday.

“We conduct(ed) a number of additional drone strikes throughout the night and continue to enable the (Afghan military), who remain squarely in the lead,” Lt Col Martin O’Donnell told AFP.

“The 207th Corps commander is leading operations on the ground and the city remains in government control.”

There had been reports that the militants were hiding in homes, meaning that the clearing operation was likely to be slow.

People remained fearful. “I want to open my shop today but they have planted land mines in some parts of the city,” Abdul Samad said.

Afghan forces, their numbers sapped by killings and desertions, have been struggling to hold back the resurgent militant group since the withdrawal of NATO combat forces at the end of 2014.

The assault on Farah is the latest in a series of attempts by the Taliban to capture urban centres. Kunduz, Afghanistan’s fifth largest city, fell briefly to the insurgents in 2015.

Farah province, a remote poppy-growing region that borders Iran, has been the scene of intense fighting in recent years, and there have long been fears that the city of Farah is vulnerable.

The Taliban, along with the Islamic State group, have also stepped up their attacks in the capital Kabul, which the UN says has in recent years become one of the country’s deadliest places for civilians.