Authorities in southern Afghanistan said Saturday they have lost contact with scores of soldiers after Taliban insurgents assaulted a military base in the restive Uruzgan province.
A regional Afghan National Army (ANA) spokesman told VOA heavy fighting erupted following the late Friday insurgent offensive in the Chinarto district.
Colonel Yahya Olawee said clashes were still raging in the area and he promised to provide more details later in the day.
Separately, the district police chief told VOA that around 100 ANA troops were stationed at the base but their whereabouts were not known following the Taliban attack. Akhtar Mohammad suspected the missing soldiers might have joined insurgent ranks and he confirmed the army base had fallen to the Taliban.
An insurgent spokesman, Qari Yousaf Ahmadi, claimed the "multi-pronged" Taliban offensive overran the Afghan army base, killing 55 soldiers and capturing six others.
In a brief statement sent to reporters, Ahmadi said that Taliban fighters have also seized large qualities of arms, ammunition and other military equipment placed in the ANA base.
There was no independent confirmation of the claims and insurgents are known for issued inflated details of their battlefield advances.
The Taliban has inflicted heavy losses on Afghan security forces. The Islamist insurgency currently controls or intensely contests nearly half of the country's 407 districts.
SIGAR quarterly report
A U.S. government agency in its quarterly report released this week has noted that the Afghan National Defense and Security Force (ANDSF) failed to improve its control over the country's districts, population and territory as of May 15 this year.
"Instead, district and territorial control became slightly more contested between the government and the insurgency,"said the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR).
The watchdog noted that the ANDSF has lost 8,500 personnel since April 2017, and 5,353 since April 2016.
Since 2015, according to SIGAR, the Afghan government control and influence over its districts has declined by about 16 percentage points; contested districts have increased by nine points; and insurgent control or influence has risen by nearly seven points."
Afghan peace prospects
Meanwhile, efforts aimed at seeking a negotiated settlement to the Afghan war seem to have gained ground in recent weeks in the wake of recent direct talks between the United States and the Taliban.
Senior U.S. State Department official for regional diplomacy, Alice Wells, traveled to Doha, Qatar, and met with Taliban negotiators on July 23,fulfilling a primary insurgent demand of direct talks with Washington to further Afghan peace efforts.
There were no Afghan government representatives present at the table. The Taliban dismisses the Kabul government as an "American puppet" and is averse to engaging in any discussions with it.
A Taliban spokesman told VOA immediately after the Doha interaction with U.S. officials that the "preliminary dialogue was"productive and held in a friendly atmosphere." He said the discussions focused on laying the ground for future contacts and meetings between the two sides.