Taliban Attack Afghan Army Bases, Seeking Edge

KABUL, Afghanistan (AFP) — The Taliban launched more than a dozen attacks on Afghan army bases, officials said Tuesday, hours after ending a partial truce and throwing into doubt peace talks with Kabul.

The intra-Afghan negotiations were due to begin March 10 according to a U.S.-Taliban deal signed in Doha, Qatar on Saturday, but a dispute over a prisoner swap has raised questions about whether they will occur.

Afghanistan soldiers respond to a car bomb that killed six people near the military academy in Kabul in February. (AP photo/Rahmat Gul)

The agreement includes a commitment for the Taliban to release up to 1,000 prisoners and for the Afghan government to free around 5,000 Taliban captives — which the militants demand as a prerequisite for talks but which President Ashraf Ghani has refused to do before negotiations start.

The row has highlighted the tough road ahead, with the Taliban’s decision to end a partial truce Monday complicating matters.

A defense ministry official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Agence France-Presse of overnight attacks on government forces in 13 of the country’s 34 provinces.

Two soldiers were killed in one of the attacks in southern Kandahar province, a government statement said.

An attack in Logar province near Kabul — which was not included in the defense ministry official’s tally — killed five security forces, the provincial governor’s spokesman Didar Lawang told AFP.

The halt to the limited truce, which began Feb. 22, ends what was a welcome reprieve for ordinary Afghans who have borne the brunt of the violence.

But experts said the move was unsurprising, as both sides seek to exploit whatever leverage they hold to force the other’s hand.

“Of course violence will go up, was bound to happen. No surprise Ghani balking on prisoner release: 1 of his few levers,” Vanda Felbab-Brown, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, tweeted.

Kabul-based analyst Ahmad Saeedi told AFP the attacks reflected the Taliban’s belief that “they have to keep the battlefield hot to be able to win on the negotiating table, as they did with the Americans.”

Ghani’s government last week sent a delegation to Qatar to open initial contacts with the insurgents but Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen on Tuesday said the militants would not meet Kabul’s representatives except to discuss the release of their captives.

Apparent differences between the Doha agreement and a joint U.S.-Afghan declaration released in Afghanistan underline the obstacles facing negotiators.

The U.S.-Taliban deal committed to the release of prisoners while the Kabul document required only that both sides determine “the feasibility of releasing” captives.

The United Nations’ Afghanistan mission called for “continued reduced violence to maintain & enhance an environment conducive to the start of intra-Afghan negotiations.”

Since the deal signing, the Taliban have been publicly claiming victory over the United States.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo played down the Taliban’s comments.

“So, I’ve seen lots of remarks. Just watch what really happens. Pay less attention to statements, pay less attention to things people say,” Pompeo told Fox News.

“Watch what happens on the ground. There’s been a lot of work done at detailed levels about how this will proceed. So far, so good.”

Under terms of the deal, foreign forces will leave Afghanistan within 14 months, subject to Taliban security guarantees and a pledge that they hold talks with Kabul.

© Agence France-Presse

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