Taliban militants killed at least 20 Afghan soldiers and policemen in a string of overnight attacks, government officials said Wednesday, hours after US President Donald Trump said he had a “very good” chat with their political chief.
The militants have ramped up violence against Afghan security forces in recent days, ending a partial truce put in place during the run-up to a landmark US-Taliban withdrawal deal signed in Doha on Saturday.
“Taliban fighters attacked at least three army outposts in Imam Sahib district of Kunduz last night, killing at least 10 soldiers and four police,” said Safiullah Amiri, a member of the provincial council.
A defense ministry official speaking on condition of anonymity confirmed the army toll, while the provincial police spokesman Hejratullah Akbari confirmed the police fatalities.
The insurgents also attacked police in central Uruzgan province Tuesday night, with the governor’s spokesman Zergai Ebadi saying: “Unfortunately, six police were killed and seven wounded.”
The violence has cast a pall on the nascent Afghan peace process, with the insurgents clashing with Kabul over a prisoner exchange ahead of talks that are due to begin on March 10.
On Tuesday Trump told reporters in Washington that he had a “very good” relationship with Taliban political chief Mullah Baradar, with the pair speaking on the phone for 35 minutes, according to the insurgents.
“The relationship is very good that I have with the mullah. We had a good long conversation today and you know, they want to cease the violence, they’d like to cease violence also,” he said.
Trump has touted the Doha deal as a way to end the bloody, 18-year US military presence in Afghanistan –- right in time for his November re-election bid.
Under the terms of the deal, US and other foreign forces will quit Afghanistan within 14 months, subject to Taliban security guarantees and a pledge by the insurgents to hold talks with the national government in Kabul.
The agreement also includes a commitment to exchange 5,000 Taliban prisoners held by the Afghan government in return for 1,000 captives – something the militants have cited as a prerequisite for talks but which President Ashraf Ghani has refused to do before negotiations start.
Trump said the Taliban and Washington both “have a very common interest” in ending the war.
He had sharper words for Ghani’s government, however, suggesting they might be “reluctant” to pursue a deal.
“They’ve done very well with the United States for many years – far beyond military if you look at all the money that we spent in Afghanistan,” he said.
Since Saturday’s deal signing, the Taliban have been publicly claiming “victory” over the US and on Monday they announced they would resume attacks on Afghan national forces.
The halt to the limited truce, which began on February 22, ended what was a welcome reprieve for ordinary Afghans who have born the brunt of the deadly violence.
Ghani’s government last week sent a delegation to Qatar to open “initial contacts” with the insurgents, but Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen on Tuesday said the militants would not meet Kabul’s representatives except to discuss the release of their captives.
Apparent differences between the Doha agreement and a separate joint US-Afghan declaration made in Afghanistan underline the obstacles facing negotiators.
The US-Taliban deal committed to the release of prisoners, while the Kabul document only required both sides to determine “the feasibility of releasing” captives.