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Taliban Attacks Kill 21 Afghan Forces  

Takhar Province

Officials in Afghanistan said Monday at least 21 security forces have died in the latest Taliban attacks, and a planned prisoner swap with the insurgent group has been delayed again.

The deadliest violence occurred in northern Takhar province where Taliban fighters assaulted several government outposts in Khawja Ghar district Sunday night.

A provincial government spokesman, Khalil Assir, told VOA the raid killed 14 Afghan forces and a civilian.

Separately, the Defense Ministry has confirmed the death of six Afghan soldiers in overnight clashes with the Taliban in the Arghandab district of southern Zabul province. The ensuing clashes also “inflicted heavy casualties” on the assailants.

The Taliban did not immediately offer any comments on the incidents.

At least four people were also wounded when a bomb attached to a small truck exploded early morning in the capital, Kabul. No one claimed credit for plotting the bombing.

Prisoner swap delayed

The latest violence comes as a spokesman for the Afghan National Security Council confirmed that a long-awaited prisoner swap process, which was supposed to start on Tuesday, has been delayed.

“There is no prisoner release happening tomorrow. [The] Taliban agreed in the video conference yesterday to send a team to Kabul to hold further technical discussions with the government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan,” said Javid Faisal.

The two sides have been speaking to each other through videoconferences because of the looming coronavirus threat in Afghanistan.

An understanding reached last week had required a Taliban delegation to travel to Bagram airbase north of Kabul and verify their inmates before Afghan authorities would set them free.

The prisoner swap is one of the key provisions in the U.S.-Taliban agreement signed on Feb. 29, requiring Kabul to release up to 5,000 insurgent prisoners in exchange for 1,000 detainees, mostly Afghan security forces, in Taliban custody.

According to the pact, the process will kickstart peace negotiations between Taliban leaders and an Afghan team of political groups and civil society on negotiating a sustainable cease-fire and power-sharing in Afghanistan.

The dialogue, which was supposed to begin March 10 at a neutral venue has been derailed because of mutual differences on the prisoner swap process.

The Taliban, citing its agreement with Washington, demands all its prisoners to be freed before it engages in peace talks. But the Afghan government insists on a gradual release of inmates in small batches, subject to the progress in the dialogue.

For its part of the agreement with the Taliban, the U.S. has begun a “conditions-based” reduction in U.S. troops in Afghanistan. The accord requires Washington and allied troops to withdraw from the country in 14 months.