Taliban Ceasefire: Afghan President To Speed Up Release Of Prisoners

In this handout photograph taken on May 17, 2020 and released by Afghanistan’s Office of Chief Executive, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani signs a document at the Presidential Palace in Kabul. HANDOUT / Office of Chief Executive of Afghanistan / AFP

 

 

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani vowed Sunday to speed up the release of Taliban prisoners and said he was ready to hold peace talks “immediately” with the insurgents after they made a ceasefire offer.

The Taliban offered a three-day truce over the Eid al-Fitr holiday that marks the end of the Muslim holy fasting month of Ramadan starting Sunday, which Ghani swiftly accepted.

“As a responsible government we take one more step forward — I announce that I will expedite the Taliban prisoner releases,” Ghani said in an address to the nation marking the holiday.

A US-Taliban deal signed in February stipulated that the Afghan government would release up to 5,000 Taliban prisoners while the insurgents would free about 1,000 Afghan security force personnel.

The prisoner swap is seen as a confidence-building move ahead of long-awaited talks between the government and the Taliban.

Kabul has so far released about 1,000 Taliban inmates while the insurgents have freed about 300 Afghan security force personnel.

READ ALSO: Nigeria Marks Eid-El-Fitr Amid COVID-19 Pandemic

Ghani also said his government was ready to hold peace talks “immediately” with the insurgents, who had stepped up brutal attacks on Afghan forces since signing the US deal.

Government negotiators would be headed by Ghani’s former bitter rival Abdullah Abdullah after the two signed a power-sharing deal last week that ended a months-long political crisis.

The Taliban offer comes just days after their leader Haibatullah Akhundzada urged Washington “not to waste” the opportunity offered by the deal with the US that set the stage for the withdrawal of foreign troops from the country.

US Special Representative to Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad, who brokered the deal, said on Twitter Saturday that the United States welcomed the ceasefire.

He urged the Taliban to continue to abide by the agreement, calling the halt in violence “a momentous opportunity that should not be missed” while pledging that the United States would “do its part to help.”

– ‘Want lasting peace’ –

US President Donald Trump’s administration has made it a priority to end America’s longest war, and in a bid to pull out foreign forces US officials have been pushing the Taliban and government leaders to hold peace talks.

Analysts however say the Taliban have been emboldened by the deal with the US, and Afghan government officials have reported more than 3,800 attacks since it was signed, killing 420 civilians and wounding 906.

But Khalilzad has maintained that the insurgents have kept up their end of the bargain by not attacking the coalition forces — even if recent violence violated the spirit of the accord.

The remarks come after a horrific attack against a maternity hospital in Kabul that killed dozens — including mothers and infants — and a suicide bombing at a funeral.

The Taliban denied involvement in the attacks, but President Ghani blamed them and the Islamic State group for the violence.

War-weary Kabul residents expressed relief after the truce was announced.

“I’m happy that we are witnessing a rare ceasefire in Afghanistan,” said 18-year-old barber Abidullah Nasimi.

“But this is not enough, we want a permanent ceasefire and end of bloodshed so that we have lasting peace in the country.”

Since the US invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 there has only been one other pause in the fighting — a three-day ceasefire between the Taliban and Kabul, also marking the end of Eid in 2018.

That ceasefire was initiated by Ghani.

AFP

Afghan Taliban Announce Three-Day Eid Ceasefire With Govt

Afghan security forces sit in a Humvee vehicle amid ongoing fighting between Taliban militants and Afghan security forces in Kunduz on May 19, 2020. STR / AFP

 

 

The Taliban announced a three-day ceasefire during the Eid al-Fitr holiday starting Sunday in a surprise move following months of bloody fighting with Afghan forces after the group signed a landmark agreement with the United States. 

President Ashraf Ghani swiftly welcomed the insurgents’ offer and ordered his forces to also comply, while the US envoy to Afghanistan hailed the deal as a “momentous opportunity.”

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said in a statement posted on social media that the group’s “leadership instructs all the mujahideen of the Islamic Emirate to take special measures for the security of the countrymen, and conduct no offensive operation against the enemy anywhere.”

READ ALSO: Nigeria Marks Eid-El-Fitr Amid COVID-19 Pandemic

The statement, which announced a halt to hostilities “during the three days of Eid,” instructed Taliban fighters to refrain from entering government areas and also said that Kabul forces were not allowed to enter territories under their control.

Since the US invasion in 2001 there has only been one other pause in the fighting — a surprise three-day ceasefire between the Taliban and Kabul marking the religious festival of Eid in 2018.

That ceasefire call was given by Ghani, which the insurgents had accepted.

During the brief lull in fighting at that time, Afghans responded joyfully, with Taliban fighters, security forces, and civilians hugging, sharing ice creams, and posing for selfies in previously unimaginable scenes.

Ghani was quick to accept the Taliban ceasefire offer Saturday.

“I welcome the ceasefire announcement by the Taliban,” he said on Twitter.

“As commander-in-chief I have instructed ANDSF (Afghan National Defence Security Force) to comply with the three-day truce and to defend only if attacked.”

The announcement comes just days after the Taliban’s leader Haibatullah Akhundzada urged Washington “not to waste” the opportunity offered by the deal the militants signed with the United States in February that set the stage for the withdrawal of foreign troops from the country.

“The Islamic Emirate is committed to the agreement… and urges the other side to honour its own commitments and not allow this critical opportunity to go to waste,” Akhundzada said in a statement, using the Taliban’s name for Afghanistan.

The signing of the deal between the United States and the Taliban was preceded by a so-called “reduction in violence” but not an official ceasefire.

US Special Representative to Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad, who brokered the deal, said on Twitter Saturday that the United States welcomed “the Taliban’s decision to observe a ceasefire during Eid, as well as the Afghan government announcement reciprocating and announcing its own ceasefire.”

He urged the Taliban to continue to abide by the agreement, calling the halt in violence “a momentous opportunity that should not be missed” while pledging that the United States would “do its part to help.”

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg also welcomed the ceasefire, urging all parties to “seize this opportunity for peace, for the benefit of all Afghans.”

 

– US pushes for peace –

The US-Taliban deal is aimed at paving the way for the insurgents to hold direct peace talks with Kabul.

US President Donald Trump’s administration has made it a priority to end the war in Afghanistan, and in a bid to pull out foreign forces US officials have been pushing the Taliban and government leaders to hold peace talks.

Analysts however say the Taliban have been emboldened by the deal with the US, and Afghan government officials have reported more than 3,800 attacks since it was signed, killing 420 civilians and wounding 906.

But Khalilzad has maintained that the insurgents have kept up their end of the bargain — even if recent violence violated the spirit of the accord.

“The Taliban have implemented their agreement not to attack the coalition forces,” he said earlier this month.

The remarks come after a horrific attack against a maternity hospital in Kabul that killed dozens — including mothers and infants — and a suicide bombing at a funeral.

The Taliban denied involvement in the attacks, but President Ghani blamed them and the Islamic State (IS) group for the bloodshed.

Following that attack and another suicide bombing in the country’s east the government ordered security forces to switch to an “offensive” posture against the Taliban.

The Taliban responded by vowing to increase attacks against government forces.

The group has carried out regular attacks against Afghan forces in recent days, and earlier this week even tried to enter the northern city of Kunduz.

Afghan forces, however, managed to repel the Taliban attack on Kunduz, a city which had fallen to the insurgents twice before.

Afghan Taliban Announce Three-Day Eid Ceasefire

Afghan security forces sit in a Humvee vehicle amid ongoing fighting between Taliban militants and Afghan security forces in Kunduz on May 19, 2020. STR / AFP

 

The Taliban announced a three-day ceasefire during the Eid al-Fitr holiday starting Sunday in a surprise move following months of bloody fighting with Afghan forces after the group signed a landmark agreement with the US.

President Ashraf Ghani swiftly welcomed the insurgents’ offer and ordered his forces to also comply.

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said in a statement posted on social media that the group’s “leadership instructs all the mujahideen of the Islamic Emirate to take special measures for security of the countrymen, and conduct no offensive operation against the enemy anywhere.”

The statement, which announced a halt to hostilities “during the three days of Eid,” instructed Taliban fighters to refrain from entering government areas and also said that Kabul forces were not allowed to enter territories under their control.

Since the US invasion in 2001 there has only been one other pause in the fighting — a surprise three-day ceasefire between the Taliban and Kabul marking the religious festival of Eid in 2018.

That ceasefire call was given by President Ashraf Ghani, which the insurgents had accepted.

During the brief lull in fighting at that time, Afghans responded joyfully, with Taliban fighters, security forces and civilians hugging, sharing ice creams and posing for selfies in previously unimaginable scenes.

Ghani was quick to accept the Taliban ceasefire offer.

“I welcome the ceasefire announcement by the Taliban,” he said on Twitter.

“As commander-in-chief, I have instructed ANDSF (Afghan National Defence Security Force) to comply with the three-day truce and to defend only if attacked.”

Saturday’s announcement comes just days after the Taliban’s leader Haibatullah Akhundzada urged Washington “not to waste” the opportunity offered by the deal the militants signed with the United States in February that set the stage for the withdrawal of foreign troops from the country.

“The Islamic Emirate is committed to the agreement… and urges the other side to honour its own commitments and not allow this critical opportunity to go to waste,” Akhundzada said in a statement, using the Taliban’s name for Afghanistan.

The signing of the deal between the US and Taliban was preceded by a so-called “reduction in violence” but not an official ceasefire.

– US pushes for peace –
The US-Taliban deal is also aimed at paving the way for the insurgents to hold direct peace talks with Kabul.

US President Donald Trump’s administration has made it a priority to end the war in Afghanistan, and in a bid to pull out foreign forces US officials have been pushing the Taliban and government leaders to hold peace talks.

Analysts however say the Taliban have been emboldened by the deal with the US, and Afghan government officials have reported more than 3,800 attacks since it was signed, killing 420 civilians and wounding 906.

But the top US official who brokered Washington’s deal with the Taliban says the insurgents have kept up their end of the bargain — even if recent violence violated the spirit of the accord.

“The Taliban have implemented their agreement not to attack the coalition forces,” US Special Representative to Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, said earlier this month.

His remarks came after a horrific attack against a maternity hospital in Kabul that killed dozens — including mothers and infants — and a suicide bombing at a funeral.

The Taliban denied involvement in the attacks, but President Ghani blamed them and the Islamic State (IS) group for the bloodshed.

Following that attack and another suicide bombing in the country’s east the government ordered security forces to switch to an “offensive” posture against the Taliban.

The Taliban responded by vowing to increase attacks against government forces.

The group has carried out regular attacks against Afghan forces in recent days, and earlier this week even tried to enter the northern city of Kunduz.

Afghan forces, however, managed to repel the Taliban attack on Kunduz, a city which had fallen to the insurgents twice before.

Taliban Attacks Kill Dozens Of Afghan Forces

FILE -photo

 

The Taliban have killed about two dozen Afghan police and pro-government fighters, officials said Monday, in two attacks that come as the foes are supposed to be preparing for peace talks.

In one of the incidents late Sunday, the insurgents killed at least six soldiers and 13 police and pro-government militiamen at several outposts near a police headquarters building in northeastern Takhar province, provincial police spokesman Khalil Assir told AFP.

A wedding party was being held in the building at the time, but the attackers did not reach the headquarters.

“The police bravely defended and prevented the Taliban from entering the celebration,” Assir said.

Mohammad Azam Afzali, a member of Takhar’s provincial council, gave a slightly lower toll, saying 17 police and pro-government militiamen were killed in the fighting that lasted at least seven hours.

The Taliban did not immediately comment.

Meanwhile, a Taliban attack on an army outpost in southern Zabul province on Sunday night left at least six soldiers dead, the defence ministry said in a statement.

Four people were also wounded when a sticky bomb attached to a small truck went off in Kabul city on Monday morning, the interior ministry said.

No one immediately claimed that attack.

The latest bloodshed comes during diplomatic efforts to kickstart talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban.

The insurgents had agreed to speak to the government under a deal with the United States signed in Doha last month, but the dialogue has been derailed by a dispute over a prisoner exchange and the Taliban are also grumbling about the composition of Kabul’s negotiating team.

The talks were supposed to start in Oslo on March 10. Now it is unclear when they might begin.

AFP

US, Taliban Sign Historic Deal On Afghanistan’s Future

 

The United States signed a landmark deal with the Taliban on Saturday, laying out a timetable for a full troop withdrawal from Afghanistan within 14 months as it seeks an exit from its longest-ever war.

The agreement is expected to lead to a dialogue between the Taliban and the Kabul government that, if successful, could ultimately see an end to the grinding 18-year conflict.

Taliban fighter-turned-dealmaker Mullah Baradar signed the accord alongside Washington’s chief negotiator Zalmay Khalilzad, at a gilded desk in a conference room in a luxury Doha hotel.

The pair then shook hands, as people in the room shouted “Allahu Akbar” (God is greatest).

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo looked on as the two inked the deal, after urging the insurgents to “keep your promises to cut ties with Al-Qaeda”.

On the eve of the signing, President Donald Trump urged the Afghan people to embrace the chance for a new future.

“If the Taliban and the government of Afghanistan live up to these commitments, we will have a powerful path forward to end the war in Afghanistan and bring our troops home,” he said.

But the position of the Afghan government, which has been excluded from direct US-Taliban talks, remains unclear and the country is gripped by a fresh political crisis amid contested election results.

‘Important first step’

The Doha accord was drafted over a tempestuous year of dialogue marked by the abrupt cancellation of the effort by Trump in September.

The signing comes after a week-long, partial truce that has mostly held across Afghanistan, aimed at building confidence between the warring parties and showing the Taliban can control their forces.

The United States and its allies will withdraw all their forces from Afghanistan within 14 months if the Taliban abide by the terms of the accord.

After an initial reduction of troops to 8,600 within 135 days of Saturday’s signing, the US and its partners “will complete withdrawal of all remaining forces from Afghanistan” within 14 months.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg heralded the agreement as a “first step to lasting peace”.

“The way to peace is long and hard. We have to be prepared for setbacks, spoilers, there is no easy way to peace but this is an important first step,” the Norwegian former prime minister told reporters in Kabul.

Since the US-led invasion that ousted the Taliban after the September 11, 2001 attacks, America has spent more than $1 trillion in fighting and rebuilding in Afghanistan.

About 2,400 US soldiers have been killed, along with unknown tens of thousands of Afghan troops, Taliban fighters and Afghan civilians.

‘Happy and celebrating’

The insurgents said they had halted all hostilities Saturday in honour of the agreement.

“Since the deal is being signed today, and our people are happy and celebrating it, we have halted all our military operations across the country,” Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid told AFP.

Any insurgent pledge to guarantee Afghanistan is never again used by jihadist movements such as Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State group to plot attacks abroad will be key to the deal’s viability.

The Taliban’s sheltering of Al-Qaeda was the main reason for the US invasion following the 9/11 attacks.

The group, which had risen to power in the 1990s in the chaos of civil war, suffered a swift defeat at the hands of the US and its allies. They retreated before re-emerging to lead a deadly insurgency against the new government in Kabul.

After the NATO combat mission ended in December 2014, the bulk of Western forces withdrew from the country, leaving it in an increasingly precarious position.

While Afghans are eager to see an end to the violence, experts say any prospective peace will depend on the outcome of talks between the Taliban and the Kabul government.

But with President Ashraf Ghani and rival Abdullah Abdullah at loggerheads over contested election results, few expect the pair to present a united front, unlike the Taliban, who would then be in a position to take the upper hand in negotiations.

Trump To Sign Peace Deal With The Taliban

 

US President Donald Trump on Sunday said he would sign a peace deal with the Taliban if one were eventually reached in Afghanistan.

“Yes,” he told reporters at the White House as he prepared to depart on a trip to India. “I would put my name on it.”

His comments came after a partial truce took effect in Afghanistan on Saturday, with the Taliban, US, and Afghan forces agreeing to a week-long “reduction in violence.”

The truce was intended to set conditions for Washington and the insurgents to sign a deal in Doha on February 29 that could ultimately lead to a withdrawal of US forces after more than 18 years.

Trump was not specific about what document he would be willing to sign but said decisions were contingent on progress during the initial truce.

He said the cooling off period has “been holding up. It’s a day and a half. We’ll see what happens.”

“I want to see how this period of a week works out,” he said.

“If it works out over the next less-than-a-week, I would put my name on it. Time to come home. And they want to stop,” he said.

“I think the Taliban want to make a deal too. They’re tired of fighting.”

AFP

US Prepares To Sign Withdrawal Deal With Taliban 

PHOTO USED TO DEPICT THE STORY: Members of the Patriot Guard Riders await the arrival of a motorcade carrying the remains of fallen Sgt. 1st Class Antonio Rey Rodriguez, 28, of Las Cruces, New Mexico, before it arrived at Getz Funeral home on February 18, 2020 in Las Cruces, New Mexico. PHOTO: PAUL RATJE / AFP

 

The US and the Taliban are set to sign a historic agreement that would pave the way to ending America’s longest war, the bitter foes announced on Friday, hours after Kabul said a week-long partial truce across Afghanistan would kick off this weekend.

If that so-called “reduction in violence” holds, it would mark a major turning point in the gruelling conflict and set the conditions for a deal that could, ultimately, pull US troops out after more than 18 years and launch Afghanistan into an uncertain future.

Both US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and the Taliban issued statements saying they had agreed to sign the accord on February 29 in Doha, following the one-week partial truce.

“Upon successful implementation of this understanding, signing of the US-Taliban agreement is expected to move forward,” Pompeo said, adding negotiations between the Taliban and the Afghan government would “start soon thereafter”.

Afghanistan’s National Security Council spokesman Javed Faisal and Taliban sources earlier said the “reduction in violence” between the US, Taliban, and Afghan security forces would begin Saturday.

The United States has been in talks with the Taliban for more than a year to secure a deal in which it would pull out thousands of troops in return for Taliban security guarantees and a promise to hold peace talks with the government in Kabul.

A reduction in violence would show the Taliban can control their forces and demonstrate good faith ahead of any signing, which would see the Pentagon withdraw about half of the 12,000-13,000 troops currently in Afghanistan.

In a statement, the Taliban said warring parties would “create a suitable security situation” ahead of a deal signing.

One Taliban source in Pakistan said that if an agreement is signed on February 29, talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government, needed to cement a broader peace deal, are slated to start March 10.

Stand down

In Afghanistan’s southern province of Kandahar, which is seen as the Taliban’s heartland, one insurgent told AFP he had received orders to stand down.

However, another Taliban commander based in Kandahar, Hafiz Saeed Hedayat, said he had only been ordered to refrain from attacking major cities and highways.

“This means maybe the violence will continue in the districts,” Hedayat said.

Taliban expert Rahimullah Yusufzai said the move signalled a wider change in thinking for both the Taliban and the US after years of fighting.

“Both sides have shown their commitment to sign the peace deal, and it’s a big development — a significant one,” he said.

The US and the Taliban have been tantalisingly close to a deal before, only to see President Donald Trump nix it at the eleventh hour in September amid continued insurgent violence.

Any truce comes fraught with danger, and analysts warn the attempt to stem Afghanistan’s bloodshed is laced with complications and could fail at any time.

Worse still, they say warring parties could exploit a lull to reconfigure their forces and secure a battlefield advantage.

The reduction in violence is “still just the first step to get to intra-Afghan negotiations,” Andrew Watkins, a senior analyst with the International Crisis Group, told AFP.

“Those talks will be a tough road of their own, but are the best avenue to a peaceful settlement to Afghanistan’s conflict.”

On Thursday, the deputy leader of the Taliban said the insurgents are “fully committed” to a deal with Washington.

“That we stuck with such turbulent talks with the enemy we have fought bitterly for two decades, even as death rained from the sky, testifies to our commitment to ending the hostilities and bringing peace to our country,” Sirajuddin Haqqani wrote in an opinion piece in the New York Times.

Haqqani is also head of the Haqqani network, a US-designated terror group that is one of the most dangerous factions fighting Afghan and US-led NATO forces in Afghanistan.

Since the US-led invasion of Afghanistan after the September 11, 2001 attacks, America has spent more than $1 trillion in fighting and rebuilding in Afghanistan.

About 2,400 US soldiers have been killed, along with unknown tens of thousands of Afghan troops, Taliban fighters and Afghan civilians.

AFP

Taliban Aim To Sign Deal With US By End Of January – Report

 

The Taliban are aiming to reach a withdrawal agreement with the US by the end of January and are prepared to “scale down” military operations ahead of signing the deal, according to their chief spokesman.

The statement by Suhail Shaheen to Pakistani daily Dawn comes as the group and the US held discussions in Doha this week after insurgent sources told AFP they had offered to initiate a brief ceasefire.

“We have agreed to scale down military operations in days leading up to the signing of the peace agreement with the United States,” Shaheen told Dawn in a report published Saturday.

He added that the Taliban were “optimistic” a deal with Washington could be signed before the end of the month and that the reduction in fighting across the country would also include the targeting of Afghan forces.

“It’s now a matter of days,” said the spokesman.

Washington has for weeks been calling on the militants to reduce violence, posing it as a condition for resuming formal negotiations on an agreement that would see US troops begin to leave the country in return for security guarantees, after a near two-decade fight.

The Taliban and the US had been negotiating the deal for a year and were on the brink of an announcement in September 2019 when President Donald Trump abruptly declared the process “dead”, citing Taliban violence.

Talks were later restarted between the two sides in December in Qatar but were paused again following an attack near the Bagram military base in Afghanistan, which is run by the US.

Any agreement with the Taliban is expected to have two main pillars — an American withdrawal from Afghanistan, and a commitment by the insurgents not to offer sanctuary to jihadists — and would ultimately have to be given final approval by Trump.

The Taliban’s relationship with Al-Qaeda was the main reason cited for the US invasion more than 18 years ago.

A deal would hopefully pave the way for intra-Afghan talks.

Many observers agree that the war can no longer be won militarily and that the only route to a lasting peace in Afghanistan is for an agreement between the Taliban and the US-backed government in Kabul.

The Taliban have until now refused to negotiate with the Afghan government, which they consider an illegitimate regime, raising fears that fighting will continue regardless of any deal ironed out with the Americans.

Roadside Bomb Hits US Army Vehicle In Afghanistan

 

A Taliban roadside bomb ripped through a US army vehicle in southern Afghanistan on Saturday, officials said, with no immediate details of casualties.

The incident took place in Dand district of southern Kandahar province, where a bomb hit a US armoured vehicle, provincial police spokesman Jamal Nasir Barkzai told AFP.

“Foreign forces were patrolling near the Kandahar airport when they were hit by a blast. We don’t have the details of the casualties because they have cordoned off the area,” he said.

A NATO Resolute Support spokesman in southern Afghanistan confirmed the incident and said the situation was being assessed.

READ ALSO: Iran Missile Operator Had 10 Seconds To Decide After ‘Communication Jam’: Guards

The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack, with spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid saying on Twitter that the blast destroyed the vehicle, killing all on board.

Violence in Afghanistan usually recedes as the cold winter sets in but this year the Taliban have pushed forward with their operations despite heavy snowfall in the mountains — and despite their negotiations with the US for a deal that would see American troops leave the country.

According to parts of the deal made public so far, the Pentagon would pull about 5,000 of its 13,000 or so troops from five bases across Afghanistan, provided the Taliban sticks to its security pledges.

The insurgents have said they will renounce Al-Qaeda, fight the Islamic State group and stop jihadists using Afghanistan as a safe haven.

Last year was the deadliest for US forces in Afghanistan since combat operations officially finished at the end of 2014, highlighting the challenging security situation that persists.

More than 2,400 US troops have been killed in combat in Afghanistan since the US-led invasion in October 2001.

AFP

US Strike Kills Taliban Splinter Commander In Herat

 

A US airstrike killed a Taliban splinter-group commander and several other fighters in the western Afghan province of Herat, Afghan and military sources said Thursday.

The commander, named as Mullah Nangyalay, was killed in Shindand district, close to the border with Iran, said Herat provincial governor’s spokesman Jailani Farhad.

Nangyalay split from the main branch of the Taliban after the 2013 death of founder Mullah Omar and joined a smaller breakaway faction led by a commander known as Mullah Rasool.

READ ALSO: Iran Civil Aviation Boss ‘Certain’ Ukraine Plane Not Hit By Missile

A senior provincial police source said the airstrike had been carried out by a US drone.

A spokesman for US forces in Afghanistan confirmed they had launched “a defensive air strike in support of Afghan forces”.

The main Taliban group has been negotiating with Washington for more than a year over the withdrawal of US troops in exchange for security guarantees from the militants that could pave the way to intra-Afghan peace talks.

23 Killed As Taliban Attacks Afghan Checkpoints

 

At least 23 Afghan security forces were killed in a series of Taliban attacks across the country, officials said Wednesday, despite winter snowfall that usually leads to a lull in violence.

The assaults targeted vulnerable checkpoints in at least three northern provinces.

In Balkh, militants stormed a checkpoint early Wednesday and killed at least seven policemen, according to provincial police chief Ajmal Fayez.

He said reinforcements had been dispatched to the post, which is located on the strategic highway connecting Balkh to neighbouring Jawezjan province.

A Taliban spokesman claimed 11 policemen died in the attack, but Afzal Hadid — a member of the provincial council — put the death toll at nine, adding four others were missing.

“We are not sure whether these four police helped the Taliban in the attack or have been captured by them,” he said.

Separate assaults by the Taliban killed at least nine members of Afghan security forces in northeastern Kunduz, and seven in neighbouring Takhar province, officials said.

The provincial spokesman for Takhar said that at least 11 militants were killed as they attacked a security checkpoint in Darqad, close to the border with Tajikistan.

10 Afghan Soldiers Killed In Taliban Attack On Military Base

This photo taken on November 27, 2019 shows an Afghan soldier walking by the ruins of Soviet-era buildings on the outskirts of Herat province. 
HOSHANG HASHIMI / AFP

 

Ten Afghan soldiers were killed in a Taliban attack on a military base in the southern province of Helmand on Saturday, officials said.

The Taliban dug a tunnel into the base in volatile Sangin district and then blew it up before their fighters could attack the compound, Nawab Zadran a spokesman for 215 Maiwand Army Corps in southern Afghanistan told AFP.

“There were 18 soldiers in the base at the time of the attack providing security for the people of Sangin. Four soldiers were wounded and four repelled the Taliban attack bravely,” he said.

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Provincial spokesman Omar Zawak confirmed the attack and said the soldiers were killed by the powerful blast inside the base.

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid in a statement sent to media claimed responsibility for the attack.

The attack in Helmand comes as local and international forces brace for another deadly winter amid US-Taliban talks to end the violence in Afghanistan.

On Tuesday, seven Afghan soldiers were killed in a Taliban attack on a base in the northern province of Balkh.

Winter once marked a slowdown in the so-called “fighting season”, with Taliban fighters returning to their villages while snow and ice made attacks more difficult to pull off.

But in recent years, the distinction between seasons has all but vanished.

Deadly violence continues to grip Afghanistan even as the US and the Taliban negotiate on-off talks aimed at reducing America’s military footprint in the country in return for the insurgents ensuring an improved security situation.

AFP