The Taliban has killed dozens of government forces in its latest battlefield attacks in Afghanistan as the insurgent group opens a new round of peace negotiations with the United States in Qatar to discuss a political settlement to the deadly Afghan war.
Officials in northern Baghlan province said Saturday a large group of insurgents assaulted several security outposts in Nahreen district, triggering hours-long fierce clashes.
The district chief, Fazluddin Mardi, told VOA the attack killed 26 in the pro-government anti-Taliban forces and wounded eight others. He asserted that insurgents also suffered heavy casualties but gave no further details.
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid gave a much higher casualty toll for Afghan forces, saying several senior commanders were also among those killed.
Attack in Kandahar province
The Taliban also carried out an early morning attack against police posts in southern Kandahar province. A security official told VOA the insurgent raid in the Takhta Pol district near the airport of the provincial capital, also named Kandahar, killed 16 policemen and wounded four others.
The insurgent group in a statement claimed it killed 20 Afghan police personnel, though Taliban spokesman people often issue inflated claims for such attacks.
Separately, provincial governor Hayatullah Hayat told a news conference Afghan forces have captured 40 Taliban members during recent raids in the Kandahar city. He claimed a large number of the detainees are specially trained insurgents tasked to carry out guerrilla attacks in urban centers.
The deadly violence came ahead of Saturday's seventh round of peace negotiations between the Taliban and U.S. negotiators led by Afghan-born American diplomat, Zalmay Khalilzad.
The two sides are expected to finalize a draft text outlining insurgent commitments that Taliban-controlled areas will not be allowed to become a hub of international terrorism. In return, the Taliban says, Washington has promised to announce a troop withdrawal timeline.
Khalilzad, however, has emphasized the final agreement must include a Taliban cease-fire and its engagement in intra-Afghan peace dialogue. The insurgent group, for its part, has publicly rejected those assertions, saying it would discuss a cease-fire and participation in Afghan-to-Afghan talks only after the U.S. side agrees to and announces a troop withdrawal timetable.