ISLAMABAD - Officials in Afghanistan Saturday announced that security forces have recaptured a key northeastern district from the Taliban after five years, as heavy clashes raged in provinces elsewhere in Afghanistan.
The Taliban has intensified attacks even as its representatives are engaged in a fresh round of peace negotiations with the United States in Qatar for ending the 18-year-old Afghan war, America’s longest overseas military intervention.
The Afghan Defense Ministry said the fighting for renewed control over Wardoj in Badakhshan province killed about 100 Taliban insurgents, including their key commanders. It claimed Afghan security forces “carried out this operation successfully without sustaining any losses.”
The ministry asserted in its statement that the Taliban’s so-called shadow governor, Qari Fasihuddin, was among the dead. Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid denied government claims, telling VOA that fighting was still raging in the district and rejected as “enemy propaganda” the claim that Fasihuddin had been killed. It was not possible to verify from independent sources claims made by either side.
Badakhshan borders three neighbors of Afghanistan, including China, Pakistan and Tajikistan.
The Taliban has, meanwhile, continued attacks in surrounding provinces of Kunduz, Takhar and Baghlan, overrunning new territory and killing scores of government forces.
Mujahid said in a statement Saturday that Taliban fighters have besieged Qala Zal district center in Kunduz a day after capturing nearby Khanabad district. He said the insurgents have also made advances in Baghlan’s capital, Pul-e-Khumri, tightening days of siege around the city.
Afghan officials have so far not offered any comments on Taliban battlefield claims.
Heavy fighting, meanwhile, has been raging in western Farah province near the Iranian border. Both Afghan officials and the Taliban have made conflicting claims about the ongoing fighting in the provincial capital, also named Farah.
On Thursday, a Taliban suicide car bomber attacked a foreign military convoy in the national capital of Kabul, killing more than a dozen people. An American soldier and a Romanian soldier were also among the dead, bringing the total number of U.S. military fatalities this year to 16.
Controversy over prospective peace deal
Taliban and American negotiators say they have drafted a framework agreement after nearly yearlong negotiations that could lead to withdrawal of all U.S.-led NATO troops from Afghanistan in return for guarantees the Islamic insurgents will not allow transnational militant groups to use the country again for international terrorism.
The Taliban said Friday its negotiators have over the past two days held fresh meetings in Qatar with U.S. chief negotiator Zalmay Khalilzad accompanied by American commander of international forces, Army General Scott Miller, in Afghanistan.
“Both meetings were positive and resulted in good progress,” said insurgent political spokesman Suhail Shaheen without discussing further details.
Shaheen told VOA "not a single soldier" from U.S. and NATO missions will stay in the country under the withdrawal timetable outlined in the framework agreement with American negotiators. In return, he said, the Taliban has promised not to allow anyone to use Afghan soil against other countries. Shaheen, however, would not disclose the deadline for foreign troops to leave Afghanistan.
Khalilzad told an Afghan television station earlier this week the deal finalized with the Taliban “in principle” will have to be approved by U.S. President Donald Trump before it is signed. The document, he said, would require 5,000 American troops to leave five Afghan bases within 135 days.
However, the Afghan-born American diplomat would not say when the residual roughly 8,600-member U.S. military force will withdraw from the country. He stressed that the Taliban will also be required to participate in intra-Afghan negotiations over a permanent ceasefire and the political future of the turmoil-hit country.
The Afghan government, however, has expressed serious reservations and concerns over the perspective U.S.-Taliban deal after Khalilzad discussed its “key details” with President Ashraf Ghani during his visit to Kabul earlier this week.
Presidential aide Waheed Omar told reporters Friday the government believes the framework agreement does not effectively bind the Taliban to abide by their commitments. He said Afghanistan needs a permanent, not temporary, peace to avert another war in the country. Omar did not elaborate further.