Taliban Forces Attack Second Afghan City Despite Near Peace Deal

Published September 1st, 2019 - 07:55 GMT
Afghan Taliban fighters listen to Mullah Mohammad Rasool Akhund (unseen), the newly appointed leader of a breakaway faction of the Taliban, at Bakwah in the western province of Farah. (AFP/ File Photo)
Afghan Taliban fighters listen to Mullah Mohammad Rasool Akhund (unseen), the newly appointed leader of a breakaway faction of the Taliban, at Bakwah in the western province of Farah. (AFP/ File Photo)
Highlights
The spokesman for the Baghlan province police chief Jawed Basharat says gun battles continue on the outskirts of its capital Puli Khumri, a day after insurgent forces stormed the strategic northern city of Kunduz.

An official says the Taliban have launched an attack on a second Afghan city in as many days, even as a United States envoy says the US and the Taliban are at the threshold of an agreement to end America's longest war.

The spokesman for the Baghlan province police chief, Jawed Basharat, says gun battles continue on the outskirts of its capital, Puli Khumri.

The attack on Sunday comes a day after the Taliban attacked Kunduz, one of Afghanistan's largest cities, in a neighbouring province and killed at least 16 people.

The attacks are seen as strengthening the Taliban's negotiating position in the talks with US envoy Zalmay Khalilzad.

Agreement at 'threshold' 

US and Taliban negotiators are close to an agreement that would reduce fighting and allow full peace talks among Afghans, a top US official said on Sunday.

Khalilzad, the Afghan-born US diplomat overseeing negotiations for Washington, said he would travel to the Afghan capital of Kabul on Sunday for consultations after wrapping up the ninth round of talks with Taliban officials in Qatar.

"We are at the threshold of an agreement that will reduce violence and open the door for Afghans to sit together to negotiate an honourable and sustainable peace and a unified, sovereign Afghanistan that does not threaten the United States, its allies, or any other country," he said in a Twitter post.

The comment came a day after a major show of strength by hundreds of Taliban fighters who overran parts of Kunduz, a city they have twice come close to taking in recent years, setting off a day of gun battles and air strikes to drive them back.

Khalilzad gave no details of the deal, which is expected to see thousands of US troops withdrawn from Afghanistan in exchange for guarantees by the Taliban not to allow the country to be used as a base for militant attacks abroad.

"We will now discuss these developments with our own leadership, while Zalmay Khalilzad is supposed to go to Kabul and inform the Afghan leadership about the decisions made in the peace talks," said a senior Taliban leader privy to the talks.

The agreement would not on its own end the fighting between the Taliban and Afghan security forces, but would allow the start of so-called "intra-Afghan" peace talks, which are expected to be held in the Norwegian capital of Oslo.

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However, it was not clear whether the Taliban would agree to talk directly with the Western-backed government of President Ashraf Ghani, which they consider an illegitimate foreign-imposed regime.

Some Taliban officials have said they would only agree to talk to Afghan officials in a private capacity, not as representatives of the state, and they remain opposed to presidential elections scheduled for Sept. 28.

US troops 

It was also unclear whether the agreement would cover the full withdrawal of all 14,500 US troops from Afghanistan or how long a pullout would take.

More than 20,000 foreign troops are in the country, most serving as part of a NATO-led mission to train and assist Afghan forces. Thousands of US troops are also engaged in a separate counter-terrorism mission fighting militant groups such as Daesh and Al Qaeda.

Suicide bombings and combat operations have continued throughout the talks and the fighting in Kunduz underlined the vulnerability of large parts of Afghanistan, where the Taliban control more territory than at any time since being overthrown by a US-led campaign in 2001.

Taliban fighters, who control large parts of the surrounding countryside, stormed the city in the early hours of Saturday, seizing large areas, including a hospital, before Afghan security forces backed by air strikes pushed them back. 

This article has been adapted from its original source.


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