Afghan-Taliban Peace Talks Continue as Fighting Kills Dozens

Officials in Afghanistan said Thursday the latest clashes between security forces and Taliban insurgents had killed around 60 combatants on both sides since Wednesday, even as delegates of the two adversaries negotiate peace.

The Taliban staged predawn assaults on security outposts in eastern Nangarhar province, killing at least 22 Afghan security personnel and injuring 15 others, a provincial government spokesman told VOA. Attaullah Khogyani said that Afghan forces killed nearly 30 assailants in the ensuing fighting.

Separately, insurgents attacked a district center in the southern Uruzgan province, killing at least five members of the pro-government forces, officials said.

The Taliban did not immediately comment on the latest violence.

Afghan Defense Minister Asadullah Khalid said insurgents were to blame.

“There have been no attacks from our side…The enemies continue to attack and spill the blood of Afghans,” Khalid said at a ceremony in Kabul, where the U.S. military handed over four A-29 Super Tucano attack aircraft to the Afghan Air Force.

The spate of deadly violence accompanied historic U.S.-brokered direct peace talks that began Saturday in Doha, Qatar, between the Taliban and a delegation representing the Afghan government.

The negotiations stemmed from a deal the United States signed with the Taliban in February, paving the way for the withdrawal of all American and NATO troops from Afghanistan by May of next year.

The intra-Afghan negotiations under way in the Gulf state are aimed at seeking a cease-fire and a power-sharing deal to govern the country after the foreign troops exit.

A spokesman for the Taliban has ruled out a cease-fire unless the two negotiating teams can discuss and agree “on the main cause of the war” dividing them.

Mohammad Naeem told a pro-insurgent media outlet the two teams were still in the process of finalizing “rules of engagement” required to prepare an agenda for what are officially known as the intra-Afghan negotiations.

He quoted Taliban chief negotiator Abdul Hakim Haqqani as telling Wednesday’s meeting in Doha that his group is determined to move the negotiation process forward with a mission to end four decades of hostilities.

“We have come to the table to negotiate in the light of Islamic tenets and demands of the Afghan people the formation of an Islamic system, a central system that meets the demands and wishes of the entire nation,” Haqqani said.

The Taliban dismisses the current governing system in Kabul as illegal and a product of America’s occupation of the country.

Afghan officials say their team in Doha has been tasked with negotiating a deal with the insurgents without undermining gains the country has made over the past 19 years in economic, security, diplomatic and social sectors.

“We will defend the intra-Afghan negotiations, but we will preserve all achievements. Now the time is over that the women of Afghanistan, Afghan girls in the bazaar or streets or stadiums are whipped,” Khalid reiterated in his speech Thursday.

The Afghan minister was referring to the Taliban’s harsh five years of Islamic rule in the 1990s when girls were banned from education and women from outdoor activities in the crisis-hit South Asian nation.

“Afghan women in the past two decades have become pilots, doctors, teachers, ministers and deputies,” Khalid said.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, while addressing Saturday’s inauguration of Afghan peace talks in Doha, stressed the need for both sides to seize the historic opportunity and work out a durable deal.

“These historic negotiations should produce a political arrangement that accommodates competing views and rejects the use of violence to achieve political aims,” Pompeo said.

“As you make your decisions, you should keep in mind that your choices and conduct will affect both the size and scope of future U.S. assistance. Our hope is that you reach a sustainable peace, and our goal is an enduring partnership.”