ISLAMABAD - A mortar attack on a school Saturday in the volatile southeastern Ghazni province of Afghanistan killed at least four school students and injured more than a dozen. The assault comes on the heels of the Taliban capturing a strategically important northeastern district in Afghanistan and inflicting fresh casualties on government forces elsewhere in the country.
A provincial government spokesman, Arif Noori, told VOA that two teachers also were among 15 other people injured in the incident. It was not known immediately whether Afghan forces or Taliban rebels fired the mortar shell on the school in the Andar district.
Noori said a government investigation has been launched into the incident.
Fighting has intensified across many Afghan provinces with the advent of spring amid U.S.-led efforts to find a negotiated settlement with the Taliban to end the 18-year-old Afghan war.
Within the past week, about 35 Afghan civilians, including 20 children and six women, have died in conflict-related incidents across the country.
The United Nations has confirmed that almost 90 percent of the casualties were caused by Afghan security forces and U.S. airstrikes. The world body says the armed conflict last year killed more than 3,800 civilians, including 927 children, the highest number of civilian deaths recorded in the past 10 years.
Officials confirmed Saturday that Afghan security forces retreated overnight from the Arghanj Khwa district center in Badakhshan province following fierce clashes with Taliban assailants.
A provincial government spokesman told VOA the fighting killed at least four police personnel. A provincial council member, Tahira Alamyar, said clashes Friday night killed about a dozen Afghan forces. She told VOA Taliban insurgents also captured at least five security forces.
An insurgent spokesman said the Taliban has consolidated its control over the district after overrunning the district police headquarters, seizing several military vehicles and a “huge quantity of weapons-equipment.”
Separately, officials in southern Zabul province confirmed that at least eight police officers were killed Saturday morning at a security outpost in the Shahr-e-Safa district when one of their colleagues with suspected links to the Taliban turned his gun on them.
A provincial police official told VOA on condition of anonymity that the whereabouts of eight other Afghan forces were not immediately known. A provincial police spokesman, Asif Tokhi, confirmed the incident to VOA but would not share further details immediately.
The post is located on the main highway linking the national capital, Kabul, to southern Afghan provinces.
A Taliban spokesman claimed responsibility for what he described as an “infiltrator operation” that killed eight pro-government forces and detained another.
Afghan officials also confirmed a Thursday night Taliban attack on the provincial capital, Ghazni, killed at least 15 security forces, including a district police chief.
The insurgents had tried to capture the city in August but were beaten back by Afghan forces with the help of American special forces and airstrikes. Most of the districts in the province are controlled or contested by the Taliban.