ISLAMABAD - Officials in Afghanistan say a pre-dawn Taliban attack in northern Afghanistan has killed at least 13 policemen. The attack comes as the insurgent group is engaged in days of talks with the United States on a possible reduction in hostilities to advance their stalled peace process.
A local official told VOA Tuesday on condition of anonymity that insurgents raided a police post in Pul-e-Khumri, the capital of Baghlan province, and overran it with the help of a suspected Taliban infiltrator.
Provincial police spokesman Javed Ahmad Basharat confirmed to VOA the attack left the post commander dead and both sides suffered “heavy casualties” in ensuing clashes. But he did not provide any number for police losses.
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid claimed in a statement sent to media the attack killed a total of 17 police personnel and captured another, though insurgent group often issues inflated claims.
Afghan security forces have also claimed killing dozens of Taliban fighters in operations in several provinces over the past few days, though the veracity of such claims is difficult to ascertain from independent sources.
The battlefield hostilities come as U.S. negotiators have been holding closed-door meetings with Taliban representatives in Qatar, trying to overcome recent challenges facing their year-long troubled peace dialogue on ending the 18-year-old war in Afghanistan.
Washington's chief negotiator, Zalmay Khalilzad, wants the Taliban to commit to a “significant and lasting” reduction in violence for the two sides to finalize a long-anticipated peace agreement.
"Ambassador Khalilzad and his team are in Doha. They are encouraging the Taliban to make a commitment to a reduction in violence that would allow Afghans to sit at a negotiating table,” Alice Wells, the Trump administration’s chief regional diplomat, told reporters last week.
The Taliban has proposed a week-long reduction in violence to sign the deal with the United States.
The U.S.-Taliban deal, if reached, could set the stage for a gradual drawdown of U.S. and coalition forces in Afghanistan, closing America’s longest war. It would also open the way for Taliban-Afghan negotiations on governance-related matters.