–US and militant outfit fail to reach an agreement on the withdrawal of foreign troops from the country
-Taliban fighters kill 20 soldiers in western province of Badghis
KABUL: Taliban fighters have stepped up pressure on Afghan forces in the western province of Badghis, killing 20 soldiers and capturing 20, an official said on Tuesday, as the longest round of consecutive peace talks ended with no agreement on the withdrawal of foreign troops from the country.
The 16 days of talks, in which the United States also sought assurances that Taliban insurgents will not use Afghanistan to stage attacks, are expected to resume in late March.
“Withdrawal of the foreign forces and the guarantee that Afghanistan will not be used (to attack) any other country were the only two topics of discussion,” a source familiar with the meetings said.
The negotiations in Doha, Qatar included the Taliban’s political chief Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar and a US negotiating team led by special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad.
“Just finished a marathon round of talks with the Taliban in #Doha. The conditions for #peace have improved. It’s clear all sides want to end the war. Despite ups and downs, we kept things on track and made real strides,” Zalmay Khalilzad tweeted after the meeting.
TALIBAN STEP UP ACTION:
Meanwhile, a large number of Taliban insurgents had launched attacks on several army posts in the province’s Bala Murghab district, beginning on Saturday night, said Qais Mangal, spokesperson for the defense ministry in Kabul.
“The fighting is still on,” Mangal said, adding that the Taliban had overrun four posts and government reinforcement backed by air support had been sent to prevent the whole area from falling to the insurgents.
A member of the Badghis provincial council, Abdul Aziz Beg, said 20 soldiers had been killed, 10 wounded and 20 captured by the hardline militant group.
The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attacks in Badghis, which is on the border with Turkmenistan.
Taliban spokesperson Qari Yousuf Ahmadi said 20 soldiers had been killed, 28 captured and a large supply of weapons and ammunition seized.
The Taliban, ousted in 2001, say they are fighting to expel foreign troops, topple the Western-backed Afghan government and restore their version of Islamic law.
As the snow begins to melt, the Taliban and Afghan security forces have stepped up attacks on each other but the extent of government losses is a major concern.
In January, President Ashraf Ghani, speaking at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, said 45,000 members of the security forces had been killed since he took office in September 2014.
While the fighting flares in different places across the country, leaders of the Taliban and US officials are engaged in their longest session of peace talks to end the 17-year war.