Afghan security forces have repelled a Taliban attack on the northern city of Kunduz.
In a statement on Tuesday, the Afghan Defense Ministry announced that an early morning attack on the city had been repulsed. The Defense Ministry said, “With the support of air force their attack was repelled. Eleven Taliban were killed and eight wounded.” This week’s battle, close to the city itself, follows months of skirmishes in the rural areas near Kunduz, AFP reported.
Last week, after several brutal terror attacks, President Ashraf Ghani said, “I am ordering Afghan security forces to switch from an active defense mode to an offensive one and to start their operations against the enemies.” After his statement, the Taliban pledged further attacks, as well.
The Taliban has captured Kunduz on two separate occasions in the past, before being ousted by the Afghan security forces.
The fighting threatens to derail nascent political dialogue between the government and the Taliban.
In February, the U.S. and the Taliban reached a conditional peace agreement that is to the see the U.S. withdraw from Afghanistan, while the Taliban promised to ensure that Afghan soil would not be used to target the U.S. and its allies. The agreement further stipulated that negotiations between the militants and the government –which the Taliban had long rejected – should begin in March 2020.
The talks have struggled to make headway, with the two sides differing over the first item addressed: a prisoner swap. Soon after dialogue began, the Taliban walked out of the talks, calling them “fruitless.”
U.S. Special Representative for Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, returned to Qatar –the site of talks between the U.S. and the Taliban – as well as Afghanistan this week, to press the two sides to resume the talks. The State Department noted that he will also seek “a significant reduction of violence.”
While negotiations with the militants have foundered, President Ghani has reached an agreement with political rival Abdullah Abdullah to end a standoff between the two over the results of the 2019 election, which yielded victory for Ghani. Abdullah contested the legitimacy of the outcome, calling it a fraud, and held his own presidential inauguration on the same day as the one for incumbent Ghani. The U.S., a key source of foreign assistance for Afghanistan, threatened to freeze aid if the two could not reach a power-sharing deal.
The agreement between the two, announced over the weekend, will see Ghani retain his position as president. Both he and Abdullah will appoint an equal number of ministers to cabinet posts.