Taliban attacks continue across Afghanistan as peace talks begin



KABUL, Afghanistan — The Taliban staged attacks in more than half of Afghanistan’s provinces while they began peace negotiations with the government over the weekend, Afghan officials said Monday.

The attacks in 18 provinces included an advance in northern Jowzjan province Sunday that forced hundreds of people to flee their homes, local officials said.

“If military support does not arrive soon, the district will fall to the Taliban,” Mingajik district governor Matiullah Ehsan said by phone Monday.

The Afghan Defense Ministry said it was sending help to the embattled district, but couldn’t provide details on injuries and couldn’t confirm any deaths in Jowzjan or elsewhere Monday.

U.S. and Afghan government representatives called on the Taliban to declare a cease-fire as the peace negotiations got underway in Qatar on Saturday, but the insurgents did not respond.

“The attacks by the Taliban continue,” Fawad Aman, the ministry’s deputy spokesman, told Stars and Stripes on Monday. “They still want to continue violence against the people of Afghanistan.”

Aman was hopeful Taliban would curb violence once the long-awaited negotiations began. However, analysts have been more wary, suggesting the group may continue or increase bloodshed to gain leverage at the negotiating table.

In Faryab province, “serious fighting” erupted in Almar and Qaisar districts Sunday night after insurgents launched attacks on several military checkpoints, said Mohammad Hanif Rizayee, a spokesman for the 209 Shaheen Corps.

“Luckily, none of our forces and no civilians were injured,” Rizayee said, adding that seven Taliban fighters were killed, and nine others wounded.

Significant fighting also occurred in southern Kandahar province, central Ghazni province and eastern Paktia province Monday, the Defense Ministry said.

The Taliban have also accused opposing forces of attacks that killed civilians. Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid accused the U.S. of violating a peace deal in late February by conducting a drone strike on a mosque last week, killing two civilians and wounding several others, in a tweet Sunday. The U.S. denied those claims.

“Claims of civilian casualties & agreement violations are false,” Col. Sonny Leggett, a spokesman for U.S. forces in Afghanistan, replied on Twitter. “All parties should reduce the violence to allow the political process to take hold.”

As part of the U.S.-Taliban deal, the Taliban have agreed not to attack foreign forces in Afghanistan but continue to target Afghan forces.

The beginning of intra-Afghan peace negotiations was a condition outlined in the deal for Washington to begin lifting sanctions against the group. It also paves the way for a complete withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan by mid-2021.

Other conditions, like the requirement that the Taliban break ties with al-Qaida, have not yet been met, the United Nations has warned.

Nevertheless, the U.S. began reducing its troops in Afghanistan by about one-third earlier this year and appears set to bring the numbers down further by Election Day in November.

U.S. Central Command boss Marine Gen. Kenneth McKenzie said Wednesday he was aiming to cut troop levels from 8,600 to about 4,500 “by the late October-November time frame.”

Zubair Babakarkhail contributed to this report.

Twitter: @pwwellman