The Taliban attacked a second Afghan city in as many days yesterday and killed several members of security forces, officials said, even as Washington’s peace envoy said the US and the militant group are “at the threshold of an agreement” to end the US’ longest war.
The attack on the capital of Baghlan Province came hours after US special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad said he warned the Taliban during talks in Qatar that “violence like this must stop.”
However, he appeared determined to move forward on a deal that plans the withdrawal of about 14,000 remaining US troops in exchange for Taliban guarantees that Afghanistan would not be used as a launchpad for global attacks.
Khalilzad was visiting Kabul to brief the Afghan government on a deal that is not yet final.
He and the Taliban confirmed the latest round of talks had ended.
The attacks are seen as strengthening the negotiating position of the Taliban, who control or hold sway over about half of Afghanistan and are at their strongest since their 2001 defeat by a US-led invasion.
Some critics warn that the Taliban are merely waiting out the US and that another US goal in the talks, a cease-fire, will not likely happen as foreign troops leave.
In Baghlan the spokesman for the provincial police chief, Jawed Basharat, said that gunbattles continued on the outskirts of the province’s capital, Puli Khumri.
Provincial council member Mabobullah Ghafari said that he had seen the bodies of at least six members of the security forces and that the situation was worsening by the hour.
If reinforcements do not arrive from the central government the city could fall, he said.
“People are fleeing their houses and properties trying to escape from the city,” Ghafari said, adding that the Taliban had occupied some checkpoints with no resistance from security forces.
“We hear the sound of blasts. The people are so worried,” said Safdar Mohsini, chief of the provincial council. “The Taliban are in residential areas fighting with Afghan security forces. We need reinforcements to arrive as soon as possible.”
If the Taliban enter the city, they would be very difficult to repel, Mohsini added.
The city of more than 220,000 people is about 230km north of Kabul.
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said on Twitter that fighters were inside Puli Khumri and that the governor’s house was under siege.
The assault came a day after the Taliban attacked Kunduz, one of Afghanistan’s largest cities, in the province to the north, killing at least 16 people and wounding nearly 100.
The Taliban had been cleared from that city but some fighters had fled to Baghlan, the Afghan Ministry of Interior Affairs said yesterday.
Few details have emerged from this latest round of peace talks.
The Taliban spokesman in Qatar, Suhail Shaheen, said that technical issues would be discussed yesterday.
The approaching agreement with the Taliban “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,” Khalilzad said on Twitter.
A US official with the negotiation team said that 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 they were not authorized to discuss the matter with the media.
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