Tal­iban ac­cel­er­ates at­tacks in Afghanistan

San Antonio Express-News - - NATION & WORLD - By Eltaf Najafizada

KABUL, Afghanistan — Tal­iban mil­i­tants have ac­cel­er­ated at­tacks across Afghanistan in a show of strength as the U.S. pushes for­ward with ne­go­ti­a­tions to end the 17-year-long war.

The in­creased vi­o­lence comes amid ac­cel­er­ated peace talks and re­ports that the U.S. plans to sig­nif­i­cantly cut troop lev­els in Afghanistan. The U.S. spe­cial rep­re­sen­ta­tive for Afghanistan rec­on­cil­i­a­tion, Zal­may Khalilzad, has stepped up ef­forts to bring the Tal­iban to ne­go­ti­a­tions, with Saudi Ara­bia, the United Arab Emi­rates, Qatar, Rus­sia and Iran in­volved in dis­cus­sions with the Tal­iban over the past few months, ei­ther with the U.S. or in par­al­lel. Nei­ther track has in­volved Afghan gov­ern­ment rep­re­sen­ta­tives.

The in­sur­gents have been bat­tling Afghan forces in the north of the strife-torn coun­try for ter­ri­to­rial gain in the past week.

Lo­cal mil­i­tary of­fi­cials re­fused to pro­vide ex­act num­bers of ca­su­al­ties. In four sep­a­rate email state­ments sent by Tal­iban spokes­men Zabi­hul­lah Mu­ja­hed and Qari Yousef Ah­madi, the Tal­iban claimed re­spon­si­bil­ity for all at­tacks, adding that it took over sev­eral vil­lages, de­stroyed sev­eral bases of Afghan forces, took weapons and am­mu­ni­tion and killed or wounded more than 150 sol­diers. The Tal­iban also sus­tained heavy ca­su­al­ties, lo­cal of­fi­cials said.

Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump last year or­dered his gov­ern­ment to ini­ti­ate peace talks with the in­sur­gents to end the war in which more than 2,300 U.S. sol­diers have died and that has cost the na­tion more than $900 bil­lion.

The vi­o­lence also killed more than 10,000 Afghan civil­ians in 2017 alone. Afghan Pres­i­dent Ashraf Ghani said late last year that more than 28,000 Afghan sol­diers were killed since 2015, shortly af­ter he took of­fice.

The U.S. mil­i­tary com­mand in Afghanistan de­scribed the re­cent spate of at­tacks as “the nor­mal ebb and flow of bat­tle” and noted in an email that Afghan forces had “held the ini­tia­tive, es­pe­cially in the last sev­eral weeks.”

The in­sur­gents con­trol or con­test half of Afghanistan — more ter­ri­tory than any­time since they were top­pled by the al­lied forces in 2001 fol­low­ing the Sept. 11, 2001, at­tacks.

Khalilzad has failed to reach an agree­ment with the in­sur­gents dur­ing rounds of talks since Au­gust. Up for dis­cus­sion have been the U.S. troop with­drawal, a ceasefire, Tal­iban pris­on­ers, United Na­tions sanc­tions, and an Afghan con­sti­tu­tional amend­ment.

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