ISLAMABAD - Afghanistan’s Taliban has stormed a key northern district as the turmoil-hit nation reeled from last week’s deadly suicide bombings with demands growing for the national unity government to quit for failing to provide security.
Insurgents assaulted Imam Sahib early Sunday and are said to be moving closer to the district center after inflicting heavy casualties on government forces and overrunning surrounding villages, according to a Taliban spokesman.
But district governor Imamuddin Qureshi told VOA that Afghan forces are fiercely retaliating to push the Taliban back and military reinforcements have also arrived from the provincial capital of Kunduz to assist them. He confirmed the clashes killed at least six soldiers and 10 insurgents.
Separately, authorities in southern Kandahar province confirmed two policemen shot dead six colleagues and wounded many others at a security installation early Sunday. The assailants, suspected Taliban infiltrators, were killed while trying to flee by Afghan troops.
The Taliban confirmed the assailants were its members who joined the police ranks just to carry out such an attack.
Intensified insurgent battlefield attacks come as demands for President Ashraf Ghani’s national unity government to quit continue to grow after terrorist attacks last week in Kabul.
A massive suicide truck bomb on Wednesday ripped through the highly-secure diplomatic sector of the capital, killing at least 90 people and wounding more than 450 others, including foreigners.
The deadliest terrorist strike in years outraged residents and they took to the streets demanding Ghani and his Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah resign.
An anti-government demonstration on Friday turned violent, prompting Afghan security forces to open fire on the crowd. One of several people killed in the clashes was about to be buried in a Kabul cemetery Saturday when three suicide bombers struck the crowd.
Abdullah and several ministers, who were also present at the funeral service, narrowly escaped the attack that killed at least eight people and wounded more than 100.
Nearly 700 casualties in the three back-to-back incidents in Kabul have made the last week the bloodiest for the Afghan capital in three decades. The Taliban said it had nothing to do with the attacks and blamed internal rivalries in the government.
Speaking after the attack on the funeral, Abdullah demanded thorough investigations into the bombing, which appears to have deepened his rifts with Ghani.
“Will soon announce our position towards terrorists within the system and on holding them to account at the national level,” said Foreign Minister Salahuddin Rabbani on his official Twitter account after the bombing. Rabbani, who was also at the funeral, is a member of Abdullah’s Jamiat-e Islami political party.
Opposition politicians have also intensified their demands for Ghani and Abdullah to step down for failing to undertake promised reforms to security and other government institutions to rid them of corrupt elements.
“I have spoken with a broad spectrum of Afghanistan’s political leaders, highlighting the importance of unity. They agreed that working together is essential to stop the cycle of violence. Calm is now called for,” said Tadamichi Yamamoto, head of the U.N. Assistance Mission in Afghanistan. He reiterated his call for seeking a negotiated settlement to the Afghan conflict.
“Meaningful steps must take place now to obtain an immediate, nationwide halt to violence. I encourage all parties to enter discussions toward that end,” said Tadamichi.
The United States also called for Afghan leaders to stay united under the challenging circumstances.
“The enemy seeks to manipulate the people’s anger and sadness to create division and sow instability,” a U.S. embassy statement quoted Special Charge d’Affaires Ambassador Hugo Llorens as saying.
Now is the time, to stand unified and announce to the enemies loud and clear that Afghans, along with their international partners, will not allow cowards to break the Afghan resolve to achieve a prosperous, stable, and peaceful nation, noted the American diplomat.
A presidential statement said Ghani chaired a meeting Sunday of his National Security Council to discuss security for the “Kabul Process” meeting scheduled for Tuesday where delegates will discuss how to bring an end to the increasingly deadly Afghan war.
The controversy-marred presidential election in 2014 prompted the United States to help mediate a deal between Ghani, an ethnic Pashtun, and Abdullah, an ethnic Tajik, to form the unity government.
But differences over a number of issues, including appointments to key posts in security and other government institutions, critics say, have hampered international-backed efforts to bring security and political stability to the conflict-shattered country.
The internal rifts coupled with rampant corrupt state institutions are blamed for the deterioration in national security and territorial insurgent gains on the battlefield.