ISLAMABAD - Officials in Afghanistan say clashes between security forces and the Taliban insurgency, and a roadside bomb blast have killed about three dozen people, including civilians.
Thursday’s deadly violence raged as U.S.-led efforts to push Afghan rivals to negotiate a political settlement to the country’s long war have slowed, if not halted, over the release of Taliban prisoners by Kabul.
A local government spokesman in northeastern Takhar province told VOA insurgents staged a pre-dawn assault on security outposts in Khwaja Bahauddin district, killing14 Afghan forces and injuring four others.
Separately, the Taliban stormed several checkpoints in eastern Nangarhar province late Wednesday and killed at least six security personnel.
A provincial government spokesman said the fighting in Khogyani district also inflicted “heavy casualties” on the assailants but he did not give further details.
The Taliban in a statement claimed credit for the attack in Khogyani but did not discuss insurgent losses.
Elsewhere in Logar and Wardak provinces, army operations killed at least six Taliban rebels and injured many others, reported an Afghan group monitoring the ongoing violence in the country.
Meanwhile, an overnight mortar attack in northern Kunduz province and a roadside bomb blast in central Ghor province reportedly killed eight civilians, including three children.
Official Afghan media quoted the Kunduz governor as blaming the Taliban for the rocket attack, though residents in the area accused Afghan forces of firing the mortar. The insurgents did not comment on the attack and there were no claims of responsibility for the roadside bombing.
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani in nationally televised remarks Thursday again urged the Taliban to cease hostilities and join the peace talks, insisting his government had removed “all obstacles” to the peace process.
But Ghani would not say whether he intended to free the remaining 320 insurgent prisoners, a key Taliban condition for opening much hoped for peace negotiations.
The dialogue and the release of up to 5,000 insurgent inmates are part of a landmark agreement the U.S. sealed with the Taliban in February to end the nearly 19-year Afghan war.
The government, which was not part of the deal, has freed all but 320 prisoners, citing security and other concerns. In exchange, the Taliban has released all promised 1,000 Afghan forces it was holding captive.
Afghan officials have lately called for the insurgents to free more captured government soldiers. Critics see the new demand against the decision of a traditional Afghan public grand assembly of elders or Loya Jirga, that advised Ghani to free all Taliban prisoners.
The Afghan president, while addressing the assembly, also pledged he would immediately sign a decree to set free the inmates to clear the way for talks with the Taliban.
For its part, the U.S. military has begun drawing down troops in Afghanistan under the agreement that seeks a complete withdrawal of all American and NATO troops by July 2021 in return for the Taliban’s counterterrorism and political reconciliation assurances.
Laurel Miller, the program director at the International Crisis Group, has underscored the need for urgently launching the long-awaited intra-Afghan peace talks.
“It is crucial to recognize that the conditions for a peace deal are only going to worsen. They are not going to improve,” Miller warned while participating in an online event at the Brookings Institution on Wednesday.
“A U.S. departure from Afghanistan without a peace deal would likely result in a protracted and intensified civil war, in which many Afghans will suffer,” said Miller, a former U.S. envoy to Afghanistan.
President Donald Trump said in a television interview earlier this month that the U.S. military is largely out of Afghanistan and the number of troops will be reduced to below 5,000 by November from the current level of about 8,600 personnel.