Afghan officials: Taliban attacks, violence kills dozens

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — A wave of Taliban attacks and violence has killed dozens across Afghanistan, even as talks are underway between the government and the insurgents in Qatar, officials said Tuesday.

A statement from the defense ministry said four army soldiers were killed late Monday night in Taliban attacks on checkpoints in Kunduz province.

According to the ministry, 15 Taliban fighters were also killed and 12 were wounded. The details were impossible to independently verify as Kunduz is off limits to journalists and the Taliban hold sway across most of the province's rural areas.

However, Ghulam Rabani Rabani, a provincial council member in Kunduz, gave a significantly higher casualty toll. At least 25 members of the security forces were killed by the Taliban in separate attacks in the Dasht-e-Archi district, including 13 soldiers and four policemen, he said.

At least eight other soldiers were killed near Kunduz city, the provincial capital, he said. Taliban spokesman, Zabihullah Mujahid, said the insurgents were behind all the attacks. The Taliban were able to seize weapons and ammunition from the checkpoints, he said.

Meanwhile, in southern Helmand province, Abdul Zahir Haqyar, administration chief in Washer’s district, was shot and killed by unknown gunmen on Monday night, said Abdul Nabi Elham, the provincial governor of Helmand.

Two of Haqyar’s bodyguards were wounded in the shooting. No one immediately claimed responsibility for that attack.

Separately, in southern Urozgan province, at least 10 people, including women and children, were wounded, when a sticky bomb placed on a motorcycle exploded, according to the provincial governor, Mohammad Omar Sherzad.

A private car belonging to police officers was the target of the explosion, he said.

The Islamic State group 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. IS has claimed responsibility for rocket attacks in December targeting the major U.S. base in Afghanistan. There were no casualties.

Taliban representatives and the Afghan government earlier this month resumed peace talks in Qatar, the Gulf Arab state where the insurgents maintain an office. The stop-and-go talks are aimed at ending decades of conflict. Frustration and fear have grown over the recent spike in violence, and both sides blame one another.

There has also been growing doubt lately over a U.S.-Taliban deal brokered by the outgoing Trump administration. That accord was signed last February. Under the deal, an accelerated withdrawal of U.S. troops ordered by Trump means that just 2,500 American soldiers will still be in Afghanistan when President-elect Joe Biden takes office on Jan. 20.