Afghan Taliban mounts new attacks as peace talks continue

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KABUL, Afghanistan (Tribune News Service) –– Taliban militants have accelerated attacks across Afghanistan in a show of strength as the U.S. pushes forward with negotiations to end the 17-year-long war.

The increased violence comes as accelerated peace talks and reports that the U.S. plans to significantly cut troop levels in Afghanistan. The U.S. special representative for Afghanistan reconciliation, Zalmay Khalilzad, has stepped up efforts to bring the Taliban to negotiations, with Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Russia and Iran involved in discussions with the Taliban over the past few months, either with the U.S. or in parallel. Neither track has involved Afghan government representatives.

The insurgents have been battling Afghan forces in the north of the strife-torn country for territorial gain in the past week. They’re fighting now in or on the outskirts of Balkh, Takhar, Baghlan, Kunduz and Sar-e-Pul provinces, according to local government officials.

Local military officials refused to provide exact numbers of casualties. In four separate email statements sent by Taliban spokesmen Zabihullah Mujahed and Qari Yousef Ahmadi, the Taliban claimed responsibility for all attacks, adding that it took over several villages, destroyed several bases of Afghan forces, took weapons and ammunition and killed or wounded more than 150 soldiers. The Taliban also sustained heavy casualties, local officials said.

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