Afghan Fighting Kills Dozens; Bomb Injures 4 Romanian Troops

Fighters with Afghanistan's Taliban militia stand with their weapons in Ahmad Aba district in 2017

Over a dozen Taliban fighters including 2 foreigners were killed and 10 others injured, the official said, adding they were deafeated.

Many Afghans are anxious that in America's push for a settlement, concerns for human rights and democracy will ultimately be cast aside and the Taliban will return to power and reimpose their extreme version of Sharia law. A spokesman for the provincial governor, Ataullah Khogyani, said two Afghan troops had been killed, along with 27 Taliban fighters.

A local health official said more than 70 dead and wounded had been brought into the main city hospital.

However, after repeated rounds of negotiations between U.S. and Taleban representatives over recent months, the new offensive underlined how far Afghanistan remains from peace more than 17 years after US-backed forces drove the Taleban from power in 2001.

The deadly attack came hours after the Taliban announced launching its annual spring offensive aimed at gaining grounds to topple Afghan government.

Peace talks are due to resume in Doha next week between US envoy Khalilzad and Taliban officials.

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Taliban, according to the government statement, launched multi-pronged offensive with two auto bombs followed by gunfight on Friday night to capture Shirzad district, but the security forces' "sharp reaction forced the insurgents to retreat". The US is hoping to seal a draft agreement on counter-terrorism assurances, troop withdrawal, intra-Afghan dialogue, and a comprehensive ceasefire, before Afghan voters go to the polls in July.

The insurgents effectively control almost half of Afghanistan and have continued to launch daily attacks on security forces despite holding several rounds of peace talks with the United States in recent months.

The Taliban have long refused to speak officially with Kabul, calling the government a "puppet" of the West. "The Afghan and world religious scholars have clearly said that the war in Afghanistan has no religious legitimacy and its continuance has no legitimate judgment".

The spring offensive traditionally marks the start of the so-called fighting season, though in reality fighting in recent winters has continued unabated. The militants captured Ghazni city, the capital of eastern Ghazni government, for days in 2018, besides gaining grounds in several districts, but failed to capture any province or important district.

To facilitate travel to Doha, the United Nations has lifted travel bans for 11 Taliban delegates, including Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, a cofounder of the Islamist movement and its top political leader, as well as Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanikzai, the Taliban's former deputy minister of foreign affairs.

"The requested exemption is exclusively for travels required for participation in peace and reconciliation discussions", the UN Security Council said.

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