ISLAMABAD - Officials in Afghanistan said Friday that Taliban insurgents killed at least nine security force members and captured more than 13 others in an attack in western Herat province, next to the border with Iran.
Provincial Governor Sayed Wahid Qatali told VOA that late Thursday insurgents targeted two security bases in Koshan and Ghorian districts close to the Iranian border.
Qatali confirmed government forces suffered casualties, saying the assailants also blew up the bases and took at least 13 Afghan personnel hostage.
The Taliban claimed in a statement it killed 13 government forces in the attack and captured 22 others, though insurgent claims are often inflated.
Separately, at least five Afghan forces were reportedly killed in a pre-dawn gun battle with the Taliban in eastern Nangarhar province.
US, Russia peace huddles
Unrelenting warfare continues in the conflict-torn country as preparations are underway for arranging a U.S.-proposed conference in Istanbul, Turkey, later this month to accelerate the peace process between the Taliban and the Afghan government.
Russia said Friday it is also considering organizing another meeting in support of the peace process like the one Moscow hosted last month, where Afghan rivals were in attendance along with senior diplomats from the United States, China and Pakistan.
“The plans to hold another Moscow format meeting are still in place,” Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova told reporters at a news conference.
In Washington, State Department spokesman Ned Price told reporters Thursday the Istanbul gathering will be “Afghan-owned” and build on recent international meetings in support of the peace process.
“This upcoming conference, it’s meant to help Afghan negotiators to make progress, to make progress in their negotiations, and will complement the peace talks that are currently ongoing in Doha,” said Price.
The State Department spokesman referred to the dialogue Taliban leaders started last September with a Kabul government-appointed team of negotiators in the capital of Qatar in line with a February 2020 agreement Washington signed with the insurgent group to end the two-decade-long Afghan war.
The U.S.-Taliban deal requires all American and NATO-led allied troops to leave Afghanistan by May 1.
U.S. President Joe Biden is reviewing the pact to determine whether to meet the deadline and pull the last about 3,000 American troops from the country, along with several thousand partners from allied nations.
Biden’s reassessment comes as the so-called intra-Afghan peace talks have stalled for most of the time, without making any significant headway, and battlefield violence has intensified to record levels.
The deadlock in the peace talks prompted U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken last month to write a letter to Afghanistan’s president, Ashraf Ghani, putting forward Turkey to host the two Afghan adversaries for talks under the auspices of the United Nations.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu subsequently confirmed his country would host the meeting, saying “Turkey is trusted by both parties of the negotiation.”
The Taliban has warned it will resume attacks on foreign forces in the country if the Biden administration fails to honor the deal.
The U.S. military has not suffered a single casualty since the signing of the agreement, which bound the insurgents to halt attacks on international forces.
Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zakharova asserted Friday that Moscow understands neither the U.S. nor the Taliban intent to terminate the deal.
“Despite the difficulties in the implementation of this treaty, we see the interest on the part of the participants of the agreement to preserve this document, which helps us to further our goals in (achieving) the peaceful settlement in Afghanistan,” Zakharova said.