An official says the Taliban have launched an attack on a second Afghanistan. The spokesman for the Baghlan province police chief, Jawed Basharat, says gun battles continue on the outskirts of its capital, Puli Khumri. This comes amid United States envoy said the US and the Taliban are at the threshold of an agreement to end America’s longest war.
The attacks are seen as strengthening the Taliban’s negotiating position in the talks with US envoy Zalmay Khalilzad.
He is visiting Kabul on Sunday to brief the Afghan government on the details of a deal that is not yet final.
The attack on Sunday comes a day after the Taliban attacked Kunduz, one of Afghanistan’s largest cities, in a neighbouring province and killed at least 16 people. The Taliban launched the “massive attack” from several different points overnight, said Sayed Sarwar Hussaini, spokesman for the provincial police chief, who reported “intense gun battles” around the city.
Hours later the Afghan Defence minister, Asadullah Khalid, rejected speculation that Kunduz had collapsed. Security reinforcements had arrived in the morning from Kabul and “very soon” he would be able to announce that the city and surrounding areas were cleared of Taliban fighters, he told the local TOLO news channel.
Officials with the NATO mission in Afghanistan did not immediately respond to a question about whether its forces were responding to the attack.
The Taliban have continued bloody assaults on civilians and security forces even as their leaders meet with U.S. peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad in Qatar to negotiate an end to nearly 18 years of war.
Talks continued on Saturday, the Taliban spokesman said. Both sides in recent days have signaled they are close to a deal. The Afghan presidential spokesman said Khalilzad will visit Kabul at some point to brief the government on the details.
One Afghan analyst, former deputy interior minister Mirza Mohammad Yarmand, said the attack on Kunduz showed the Taliban are not interested in a cease-fire, which has been a key issue in the Qatar talks.
The United States in the negotiations has also sought Taliban guarantees that Afghanistan will no longer be a launching pad for terror attacks such as the September 11, 2001, attack on the US by al-Qaida. The Taliban government had harbored al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden.
Some 20,000 US and NATO forces remain in Afghanistan after formally ending their combat role in 2014.