Elite Taliban Unit Ambush Afghan Forces Killing 34 During Talks

A special unit of Taliban militants ambushed a convoy of Afghan security forces on Tuesday evening, killing as many as 34 even as the insurgent group holds peace talks with the Kabul government to end the 19-year-old war.

The night raid by Taliban fighters, some armed with night-vision goggles and laser-assisted rifles, took place in Afghanistan’s north as the convoy made its way to the city of Takhar, said Jawad Hejri, a spokesman for the province. Hejri said many soldiers and police officers were wounded and still missing. Abdul Qayum, the head of the province’s public health department, confirmed the death toll by phone.

The attack is the worst in two weeks after a days-long battle in southern Helmand province displaced about 30,000 Afghans and resulted in heavy casualties to both sides. Another suicide car bomb attack in Ghor on Sunday, which Kabul blamed on the insurgents, killed 15 people and wounded more than 80 others.

The Taliban have continued to ratchet up violent pressure while talks are being held in Doha between the group and Afghan government. They have yet to reach an agreement on even the most basic issues. These include procedural rules and whether a landmark February agreement between Washington and the Taliban should serve as the basis for talks.

Violent Leverage

The Kabul administration has accused the insurgents of mounting attacks across the country in a bid to gain leverage in the negotiations. The Taliban haven’t made any comment on the ambush and Hejri said the insurgents also suffered heavy casualties.

The talks began after the U.S. signed the agreement with the Taliban that called for the departure of all foreign military forces by May 2021. However, U.S. President Donald Trump said earlier this month that he wants all American forces in Afghanistan home by Christmas, comments that the Taliban welcomed.

Experts have said that continued violence enacted by the Taliban is a worry that would be exacerbated by the Americans leaving before the intra-Afghan peace talks make any real headway. Afghanistan is the site of the U.S.’s longest war, and 5,000 American soldiers are currently serving there. The conflict has killed tens of thousands of people and cost the U.S. almost $1 trillion since its invasion in 2001.