Taliban accelerates attacks in Afghanistan
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.