ISLAMABAD - A fresh Taliban attack in Afghanistan has killed 17 pro-government forces, even as the insurgent group is reported to be mulling over a brief cease-fire to try to seal a foreign troop withdrawal deal with the United States.
The overnight deadly insurgent attack targeted a security outpost in Bahauddin district in northeastern Takhar province, a provincial government spokesman told VOA Sunday.
Jawad Hejiri said the post was being manned by a local pro-government anti-Taliban militia when it came under attack. He said at least four security personnel were wounded in the ensuing clashes.
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid claimed in a statement the raid killed 21 government militia forces and insurgents did not suffer any casualties. Taliban claims are often exaggerated.
Despite harsh winter conditions, insurgent attacks have seen an unusual spike within the past week, particularly in northern Afghan provinces, killing more than 50 Afghan forces.
For their part, government officials say retaliatory military actions and counterinsurgency operations have inflicted heavy casualties on the Taliban.
The violence comes as the Taliban’s leadership reportedly has agreed to observe a weeklong cease-fire with U.S.-led foreign troops in the country, starting early next month.
The temporary truce could pave the ground for concluding a long-anticipated U.S.-Taliban agreement on the drawdown of foreign troops in Afghanistan to end the 18-year-old war, America’s longest. The move could also jumpstart Taliban-Afghan negotiations on a permanent end to decades of Afghan hostilities.
Taliban spokesman Mujahid confirmed Sunday the group's leadership council is currently engaged in intense internal deliberations on declaring a cease-fire, among other issues.
“But those consultations are still continuing and there has been no final decision as yet,” Mujahid told VOA. He said the Taliban will make a formal announcement about the outcome of the consultative process as and when it is completed. Mujahid did not offer more details.
Insurgent sources believed the temporary truce, if announced, would lead to immediate resumption of U.S.-Taliban talks so the two adversaries could finalize the accord on the removal of all foreign troops from Afghanistan.
Washington paused the dialogue earlier this month, demanding the Taliban leadership agree to a temporary cease-fire to further the peace process.
Under the proposed deal, Taliban officials say, the insurgent group would be bound to prevent Taliban-controlled Afghan areas from being used by international terrorists for attacks against America and other countries. In return, U.S. and allied forces would commit to a complete drawdown of their forces.
But the Trump administration has said the withdrawal process would be “conditions-based”, meaning progress in Taliban-Afghan peace talks would determine the pace of the drawdown.
Washington has hinted at reducing its troop levels to around 8,600 from the current more than 12,000 troops stationed in Afghanistan. NATO allies have about 8,000 forces.
Some of the U.S. forces are conducting counterterrorism missions while the rest, together with coalition troops are tasked with training, advising and assisting Afghan forces battling the Taliban.