Taleban violence rages on amid virus threat in Afghanistan

KABUL • The Taleban last Saturday attacked several provinces in northern Afghanistan, overrunning large parts of one district even as American diplomats expressed optimism that a peace process that stalled over the release of prisoners was getting back on track.

Insurgents launched major assaults in three northern provinces - Kunduz, whose capital was overrun by the Taleban repeatedly in recent years, as well as Faryab and Badakhshan.

Some of the worst fighting occurred in Badakhshan province, where insurgents took control of much of the district of Yamgan and inflicted heavy casualties on Afghan forces in another district, Jurm.

Mr Amanullah Iman, who leads the executive branch of the Yamgan district office, said that hundreds of Taleban fighters attacked soon after dawn and captured the district centre after three hours of fighting.

"There were five outposts in Yamgan district centre, and the Taleban captured all of them," said Mr Iman. "The security forces escaped to a military base in another part of this district."

The fighting rages despite an appeal for a ceasefire on humanitarian grounds to slow the spread of the coronavirus across the country.

Though the Taleban say that they have begun a public health campaign to combat the spread of the virus, they have also launched more than 300 attacks in the past week in the roughly dozen Afghan provinces that have reported positive cases.

Dr Naqibullah Faiq, the governor of Faryab province where the Taleban have tried to overrun the Almar district in days of fighting, said: "During the day, we fight coronavirus. At night, our brothers, the Taleban. In the morning, we hold meetings on coronavirus. In the afternoon, on security.

"This might be the dumbest war in the world's history - that the world is going to quarantine, and we are busy fighting each other."

The violence continues even as US diplomats and Afghan officials reported progress on plans to release prisoners and on preparations for direct negotiations between the Taleban and the Afghan government.

Both steps are laid out in a deal signed between the Taleban and the United States last month, but those steps were delayed by disagreements and complicated because of travel restrictions imposed in response to the pandemic. And both appear to be bargained over down to the wire.

NYTIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 30, 2020, with the headline 'Taleban violence rages on amid virus threat in Afghanistan'. Print Edition | Subscribe