Taliban launch deadly attacks on Afghan cities as deal with US nearly finalized
The Taliban launched an attack on two Afghan cities in as many days on Saturday and Sunday, an official said, even as a United States envoy says the U.S. and the Taliban are "at the threshold of an agreement" to end the US’s 18-year-war in Afghanistan.
The spokesman for the Baghlan province police chief, Jawed Basharat, said gunbattles continued on the outskirts of its capital, Puli Khumri. There was no immediate word on any casualties.
The attack came a day after the Taliban attacked Kunduz, one of Afghanistan's largest cities, in the province to the north and killed at least 16 people and wounded nearly 100.
A suicide bomber detonated his explosives at the main intersection in Kunduz after hours of efforts by Afghan security forces to push the militants into the city's outskirts, provincial council member Ghulam Rabani Rabani told The Associated Press. The blast killed 10 people and wounded five others, Interior Ministry spokesman Nasrat Rahimi said. Afghan forces said that they killed 60 Taliban militants in the ensuing battles
In Puli Khumri, Safdar Mohsini, chief of the Baghlan provincial council, told The Associated Press,"We hear the sound of blasts. The people are so worried. The Taliban are in residential areas fighting with Afghan security forces. We need reinforcements to arrive as soon as possible, otherwise the situation will go from bad to worse."
If the Taliban enter the city they will be very difficult to repel, Mohsini added, saying security forces at some checkpoints had run away without resistance. The city is 140 miles (230 kilometers) north of Kabul.
The attacks are seen as strengthening the Taliban's negotiating position in the talks with US envoy Zalmay Khalilzad.
The militants, who have demanded that all foreign forces leave Afghanistan, now control or hold sway over roughly half of the country and are at their strongest since their 2001 defeat by a U.S.-led invasion.
Khalilzad said he was visiting Kabul on Sunday to brief the Afghan government on the details of a deal that is not yet final. The latest round of talks with the Taliban in Qatar had ended, he said.
The agreement "will reduce violence and open the door for Afghans to sit together to negotiate an honorable & sustainable peace and a unified, sovereign Afghanistan that does not threaten the United States, its allies, or any other country," the Afghan-born Khalilzad said on Twitter.
A U.S. official with the negotiation team said Khalilzad would meet with a wide range of Afghans in Kabul, including the government leadership.
"We can tell you that any potential peace deal will not be based on blind trust, but will instead contain clear commitments that are subject to our monitoring and verification," the official said. "Any potential deal would bring together all sides for negotiation, enable the withdrawal of American forces and ensure the security of the American homeland."
The official spoke on condition of anonymity because the official wasn't authorized to discuss the matter with the media.
The official said that "if and when we are able to announce an agreement, the process will pivot to intra-Afghan negotiations where the Taliban will sit with other Afghans and together they will commit to a permanent and comprehensive cease-fire."