Afghan security forces killed in first ‘Taliban attack’ since end of ceasefire
Seven members of the Afghan security forces were killed Thursday in an attack officials blamed on the Taliban, the first deadly assault since the end of a three-day ceasefire.
The temporary truce ended on Tuesday but a lull in the country's grinding violence has largely held, raising hopes that the militants and Kabul could soon start much-delayed peace talks.
Taliban fighters attacked a checkpoint in Parwan, north of the capital, early Thursday, said Waheeda Shahkar, spokeswoman to the provincial governor.
"The Taliban have also suffered casualties," Shahkar told AFP, saying seven members of the Afghan forces died.
District police chief Hussain Shah said Taliban fighters set fire to the checkpoint, killing five security force personnel. Two more were shot dead.
The Taliban have not commented.
It is the first attack that Afghan officials have blamed on the Taliban since the end of the surprise ceasefire offered by the militants and extending over the Eid al-Fitr festival.
Afghan security forces, however, carried out air strikes in the south on Wednesday that police said had killed 18 "militants".
Drop in civilian casualties
According to Afghanistan's Independent Human Rights Commission, civilian casualties fell by 80 percent during the temporary truce.
Kabul-based political analyst Sayed Nasir Musawi said he expected the insurgents to reduce attacks, without officially extending the ceasefire.
"Unofficially this ceasefire will continue and we will have a meaningful reduction in violence," Musawi said.
He added that the truce offer from the Taliban was a signal to the Afghan government and the United States that they were ready to start peace talks.
Afghan authorities have responded to the ceasefire by pushing forward with an agreed prisoner exchange, releasing some 1,000 Taliban prisoners this week, with plans to release more in the coming days.
A Taliban delegation was in Kabul on Thursday to discuss the prisoner swap with government officials, National Security Council spokesman Javid Faisal told AFP.
The ongoing exchange is part of a US-Taliban deal signed in February, which excluded the Afghan government.
Kabul had already freed about 1,000 Taliban inmates before the ceasefire, while the insurgents had released about 300 government captives.
The Afghan government has repeatedly called for extending the truce and launching peace talks.
The future of talks "depends on the Taliban's next move", Faisal told AFP this week.
US President Donald Trump's administration has made it a priority to end America's longest war, and in a bid to pull out foreign forces US officials have been pushing the Taliban and government leaders to hold peace talks.
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