Taleban, Afghan forces clash despite talk of breakthrough in peace deal

Afghan security forces are seen in Kabul, Afghanistan, on Feb 11, 2020. Afghan, Taleban and US sources said a peace deal could be signed this month. PHOTO: REUTERS

KABUL (REUTERS) - Afghan government forces and Taleban insurgents waged war against each other in the past 24 hours despite US officials saying there had been a breakthrough in recent days in peace talks to end the 18-year-old conflict.

While negotiators from the warring sides pressed on with meetings in Doha, Qatar, the Taleban and the Afghan government both reported fighting on the ground.

The Afghan defence ministry said an air strike had killed a senior Taleban commander in northern Balkh province on Thursday evening (Feb 13).

"As result of a targeted air strike by Afghan air forces, Mawlavi Sardar Mohammad, a key member of the Taleban military commission was killed along with eight others," the ministry said in a statement.

The Taleban did not confirm the air strike.

A Taleban spokesman, Zabihullah Mujahid, said the insurgents had killed six Afghan soldiers, including two officers, in an attack on a checkpoint in northern Kunduz province.

Afghan, Taleban and US sources said a peace deal could be signed this month, allowing a withdrawal of some of 13,000 US troops and thousands of other Nato personnel that remain in Afghanistan following the US intervention to oust the Taleban in 2001.

US President Donald Trump said on Thursday there was a"good chance" of reaching an agreement with the Taleban on a reduction of US troops in Afghanistan.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said an important breakthrough had been made in peace talks with the Taleban in recent days, and Defence Secretary Mark Esper said they had negotiated a proposal for a week-long reduction in violence.

Details about when that was set to begin were not immediately clear but a Taleban official said it would be this week.

Attacks in Afghanistan jumped to record levels in the last quarter of 2019 compared with previous years.

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