Afghan army: 2 officers killed by roadside bomb in north

At least two Afghan army officers including a battalion commander were killed Friday when their vehicle was hit by a roadside bomb in the northern Balkh province, the military said.

Hanif Rezaie, a spokesman for the army in the country’s north, said Capt. Mohammad Qasim Paikar and another officer were killed and two other soldiers were wounded in the explosion, which took place between Balkh and Char Bolak districts.

The attack was the latest amid relentless violence in Afghanistan even as Taliban and Afghan government negotiators hold talks in Qatar, trying to hammer out a peace deal that could put an end to decades of war.

No one immediately claimed responsibility for Friday’s bombing. Rezaie blamed the Taliban, who are active in both districts and regularly launch attacks against Afghan security forces.

Elsewhere, the Taliban announced the release of 30 imprisoned Afghan security personnel on Thursday in the southern Kandahar province’s Panjwai district.

This is the first batch of prisoners released by the Taliban since the start of direct peace talks with the Afghan government in September.

Zabihullah Mujahid, a spokesman for the group, did not provide further details about the freed prisoners, but it appeared the decision was based on an order from the Taliban’s leadership.

Earlier this year, the government freed more than 5,000 Taliban prisoners in exchange for the Taliban releasing around 1,000 Afghan security forces. The prisoner swap was part of the terms of a separate U.S.-Taliban deal signed in February.

Violence in Afghanistan has spiked even amid the Taliban and Afghan government peace negotiations in Qatar, which after some recent procedural progress have been suspended until early January. There’s speculation the resumption could be further delayed.

At the same time, the Taliban have continued their insurgency against government forces while keeping their promise not to attack U.S. and NATO troops. The Taliban have also waged bitter battles against the Islamic State group, particularly in eastern Afghanistan.

The IS affiliate in Afghanistan has claimed responsibility for multiple attacks in the capital of Kabul in recent months, including on educational institutions that killed 50 people, most of them students.