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Afghan forces secure Kunduz as Taliban attack another city

Bashir Khan Safi, AFP | Afghan soldiers gather at a street in Kunduz on August 31, 2019. Afghan security forces "repelled" a coordinated Taliban assault on the northern city of Kunduz on August 31, 2019.

The Taliban attacked a second Afghan city this weekend and killed members of security forces, officials said, even as Washington’s peace envoy said the US and the militant group are “on the threshold of an agreement” to end America’s longest war.

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The attack on the capital of Baghlan province came hours after US envoy Zalmay Khalilzad said he warned the Taliban during talks in Qatar that “violence like this must stop.” But he appeared determined to move forward on a deal that plans the withdrawal of some 14,000 remaining US troops in exchange for Taliban guarantees that Afghanistan will not be used as a launch pad for global attacks.

Khalilzad was visiting Kabul on Sunday to brief the Afghan government on a deal that is not yet final. Both he and the Taliban confirmed the latest round of talks had ended.

This attack came a day after Taliban fighters charged the major city of Kunduz on Saturday, killing at least 25 people and wounding 85.

After heavy fighting that included US air support, interior ministry spokesman Nasrat Rahimi told reporters on Sunday that security forces had cleared Kunduz of Taliban fighters.

“Kunduz city has been cleared, Taliban pushed back from areas they had taken,” Rahimi said.

“The situation is back to normal in the city.”

But Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid disputed the claim, saying insurgents were holding on to their positions.

Attacks strengthen Taliban position?

The attacks are seen as strengthening the negotiating position of the Taliban, who control or hold sway over roughly half of Afghanistan and are at their strongest since their 2001 defeat by a US-led invasion. Some critics warn that the Taliban are merely waiting out the US.

In Baghlan the spokesman for the provincial police chief, Jawed Basharat, said gun battles continued on the outskirts of its capital, Puli Khumri.

Provincial council member Mabobullah Ghafari told reporters that he had seen the bodies of at least six members of the security forces and that the situation was worsening by the hour. He stated that if reinforcements don’t arrive from the central government the city could fall.

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid in a Twitter post asserted that fighters were inside Puli Khumri and that the governor’s house was under siege.

Latest round of peace talks

Few details have emerged from this latest round of peace talks. The Taliban spokesman in Qatar, Suhail Shaheen, said technical issues would be discussed on Sunday. “We are on the verge of ending the invasion and reaching a peaceful solution for Afghanistan,” he said.

The approaching agreement with the Taliban “will reduce violence and open the door for Afghans to sit together to negotiate an honourable & sustainable peace and a unified, sovereign Afghanistan that does not threaten the United States, its allies, or any other country,” the Afghan-born Khalilzad said on Twitter.

A US official with the negotiation team said Khalilzad would meet with a wide range of Afghans in Kabul, including the government leadership.

The remaining US troops train and support Afghan forces but also come to their aid with airstrikes and counterterror operations. About 20,000 US and NATO troops are still in the country.

(FRANCE 24 with AP, AFP)

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