Clashes between government forces and Taliban insurgents have killed about 60 combatants on both sides, officials in Afghanistan said Wednesday.
In a major pre-dawn attack, the Taliban raided army and police outposts in two districts of the northern Sar-e-Pul Province.
Provincial governor Abdul Qadir Ashna told VOA the attack killed at least 11 security personnel and wounded 17 others. He said the ensuing serval hours of clashes also inflicted heavy casualties on insurgent assailants but shared no further details.
Meanwhile, a spokesman for the Afghan Ministry of Mines and Petroleum has confirmed an overnight Taliban attack in the eastern Logar Province killed at least eight security personnel.
Qadir Mufti said insurgents targeted security outposts around Aynak, a region containing Afghanistan’s largest copper deposit, about 40 kilometers southeast of the national capital, Kabul.
Taliban fighters also carried out attacks against security outposts in southern Kandahar province, killing at least eight police personnel. Provincial officials claimed the overnight fighting killed at least. 28 insurgents.
At least 70 Afghan forces have died in intensified insurgent battlefield raids this week, dealing a fresh blow to a U.S.-initiated peace plan seeking political reconciliation between Afghan parties to the war.
The Taliban spokesmen are usually quick to claim responsibility for attacks on Afghan forces, but they have neither denied nor accepted credit for this week’s violence.
The United States signed a deal with the Taliban February 29 that commits American and coalition troops to withdraw from Afghanistan by July 2021 in return for Taliban counterterrorism guarantees.
The agreement called for the Afghan government to free 5,000 Taliban prisoners in return for 1,000 detainees in insurgent custody to pave the way for peace negotiations between the two foes.
But the prisoner swap has been extremely slow. At the current pace of releases, analysts say, it will be weeks if not months, before intra-Afghan talks could begin.
Kabul so far has released more than 430 insurgent inmates in phases, and in return, the Taliban has freed 60 government hostages, although Afghan officials say the freed men are mostly civilians.
The insurgent group has ruled out participation in talks with Afghan stakeholders until all 5,000 Taliban prisoners are set free.
Kabul, which was not part of the U.S.-Taliban agreement, insists it will free the prisoners according to a government plan that seeks a reduction in insurgent violence and opening of productive intra-Afghan peace talks.
Washington has been pressing both sides to accelerate the prisoner swap and reduce violence, fearing the current situation would further delay the crucial intra-Afghan talks that were originally scheduled for March 10 under the U.S.-Taliban pact.
The recent increase in hostilities comes as Afghan’s spring fighting season nears, and the war-ravaged country continues dealing with the coronavirus outbreak.
Afghanistan has recorded nearly 1,200 patients afflicted with the COVID-19 disease that has killed 40 people. Critics and officials acknowledge the low number of cases are because of small-scale testing, and say the actual numbers could be much higher.