A roadside bomb wounded four Romanian soldiers Saturday in southern Afghanistan as fierce fighting between pro-government forces and Taliban insurgents elsewhere in the country killed dozens of people, officials said.
The spike in violence came a day after the Taliban announced their annual spring offensive, dealing a blow to expectations of a U.S.-led dialogue with the insurgent group to find a political end to the 18-year-old Afghan war and a reduction in violence during this year's fighting season.
Romania's Defense Ministry confirmed that four of its soldiers were wounded in southern Kandahar province when their convoy was hit by an improvised explosive device and was attacked with infantry weapons. A provincial government spokesman, Aziz Ahmad Azizi, told VOA the Taliban raid occurred on the road to Kandahar Air Base, where American and Romanian troops are stationed.
Separately, a major early-morning Taliban attack on northern city of Kunduz sparked heavy fighting with Afghan forces in the area, resulting in casualties on both sides.
Meanwhile, officials in eastern Nangarhar province said security forces had defeated an overnight Taliban twin suicide bomb-and-gun assault on a district governor's compound, killing at least 27 insurgents and wounding many more.
For its part, the rebel group said its attack killed or injured scores of Afghan forces and eliminated a major security base in the area. It was not possible to independently verify claims made by either side.
Chief U.S. negotiator Zalmay Khalilzad has denounced as "reckless" the insurgent offensive, warning that the call for more fighting will not advance peace efforts. He is due to hold another round of meetings with Taliban representatives this month in Qatar.
"The U.S. and our international partners will stand with Afghan security forces to continue our effort to end the war in Afghanistan, at the same time as we seek to bring parties to the table to negotiate peace," Khalilzad tweeted late Friday.
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid responded a day later by condemning Khalilzad's remarks and saying insurgent "spring operations" sought to end U.S.-led foreign "occupation, attain sovereignty and establish an Islamic system" in the country.
"We are committed to the ongoing negotiations process and a peaceful resolution but cannot remain indifferent to the military operations and ongoing crimes of the invaders [U.S.-led alliance] and their internal supporters," Mujahid said in a statement sent to media. He justified the Taliban's spring offensive by citing counterinsurgency operations by the Afghan government backed by U.S. air power.
The Taliban controls or contests about half of Afghan territory, according to U.S. military assessments.