Afghan fighting intensifies amid provisions for peace talks

KABUL: Fighting in Afghanistan has intensified as over 70 people have been killed over the past 24 hours amid preparations for peace talks to end the war in the conflict-battered country, officials said Tuesday.
In the latest violent incident, the armed insurgents gunned down an army soldier in Jawand district of the relatively troubled Badghis province Tuesday morning, member of provincial council Khan Jan Zafar confirmed.
Meanwhile, Afghan warplanes have targeted the Taliban hideouts in Pashtrod district of the western Farah province, killing 16 militants and wounding 11 others since Monday, said an army statement released on Tuesday.
The security forces have also killed five militants and injured three others in Shahr-e-Safa district of the neighboring Zabul province over the past 24 hours.
Fighting between security forces and the Taliban outfit, according to security officials, have claimed the lives of more than 50 fighters with majority of them militants, and dozens other injured in other parts of the country over the period.
Both the Taliban and Afghan forces have intensified activities amid efforts to bring the warring sides into negotiating table.
Under the U.S.-Taliban peace deal signed in February, the Afghan government has set free more than 5,000 Taliban prisoners in exchange for 1,000 Afghan security personnel to facilitate direct talks to find a political solution to Afghanistan’s prolonged war.
However, the Taliban has repeatedly delayed the talks over what the group described “delay in prisoners’ release” by the Afghan government.
Rejecting the Taliban claim, presidential spokesman Sediq Sediqi told local media that the government negotiating team is ready to fly to Qatar’s Doha for talks with the Taliban, but the armed group’s unpreparedness has delayed the negotiation.
Meanwhile, Mohammad Naeem Wardak, a spokesman for Taliban political office in Doha, has reportedly accused the government of delaying the release of the inmates, saying no talks would take place unless the process of Taliban prisoners’ release completes.
Moreover, Taliban attempts to overrun Dasht-e-Archi district, Kunduz province, have been repulsed and the militants fled away after leaving seven bodies behind, district governor Nasrudin Nazari said Tuesday.
The insurgent group launched a massive offensive in the wee hours of Tuesday to overrun the district headquarters but faced stiff resistance, the official said.
Seven militants and three policemen had been killed in the fire exchange lasted for a couple of hours, the official said.
Two policemen and a number of insurgents sustained injury in the fighting, the official added.
Taliban militants who are in control of parts of Kunduz province have yet to make comment.–Agencies