Scores of Afghan security forces and Taliban militants have been killed in separate clashes in northern Afghanistan, officials say.
Fighting reportedly raged in four provinces early on Monday, leaving as many as 60 Afghan forces and dozens of militants dead.
Sar-e Pul’s provincial Governor Zahir Wahdat told reporters on Monday that Taliban militants had seized a checkpoint in a district near the provincial capital of the same name and set it ablaze, killing at least 17 security forces.
He added that air support had been called in. Nearly 39 Taliban militants were killed and 14 injured in those strikes, he said.
“The fighting is still ongoing near the city and the central government is going to send more reinforcements soon,” Wahdat added.
The provincial police chief, Abdul Qayom Baqizoy, said Sar-e Pul City had been threatened by the militants after they seized a military base in the province, warning of a “disaster” if reinforcements were not sent.
Baqizoy compared the threat to the Taliban’s recent raid on the provincial capital of Ghazni. Taliban last month briefly seized the major city of Ghazni, located just two hours from the capital Kabul.
In neighboring Jawzjan Province, hundreds of Taliban militants stormed Kham Ab district center, bordering Turkmenistan, killing at least eight security forces and seizing control of government headquarters, according to provincial deputy police chief Abdul Hafeez Khashi. Thirteen security personnel were reportedly wounded in that attack.
Elsewhere in northern Afghanistan, the Taliban killed at least 19 police officers and injured around 20 others in attacks on several police posts in Kunduz, said Dasht-e-Archi district chief Nasruddin Saadi.
Northern Afghanistan police spokesman Sarwar Hussaini also said that Taliban militants had raided two police checkpoints in the Dara-e-Suf district of Samangan Province, killing 14 officers.
More blasts & civilian casualties
Meanwhile, twin explosions were reported outside a girls’ school in the restive eastern province of Nangarhar on Tuesday, killing a boy and injuring four others.
The first bombing occurred in front of the Malika Omaira girls’ school in the provincial capital, Jalalabad, at around 8:30 am (0400 GMT), provincial governor spokesman Ataullah Khogyani said.
A second bomb detonated as students from a nearby boys’ school and locals gathered at the scene, Khogyani added. According to witnesses, a number of students from the boys’ school were injured.
“We went with other boys to see what had happened after we heard an explosion near the girls’ school,” 12-year-old Elyas said from his hospital bed, adding, “Another explosion hit us and I was wounded (in the leg).”
Earlier in the day, a bomb had gone off outside the Biba Hawa girls’ school in the nearby Behsood district, but no casualties were reported as students had not arrived for class, Jalalabad education department spokesman Asif Shinwari said.
No group has yet claimed responsibility for the latest attacks in Nangarhar, but the Taliban and the Daesh terrorist group are active in the region.
The Taliban were ousted from power in 2001 following a US-led invasion. That war, which continues to this day, has failed to bring stability to the country despite the presence of thousands of foreign forces.
The militants have recently stepped up their attacks in Afghanistan. While they have rejected an offer of talks from the Afghan government, they have been holding negotiations with the United States.
Taliban ‘to send delegation for further talks with US’
Separately, the Taliban say they plan to send a delegation for further talks with US officials, two militant sources claimed on Tuesday.
The sources, who spoke anonymously, said Taliban leaders were meeting to discuss the makeup of the three- or four-member delegation and the issues to be discussed, Reuters reported.
They said that the militant group would like to discuss a prisoner swap, adding that more meetings could be held if the US showed seriousness.
“This meeting will determine the future talks and we would see if the US is serious and sincere in negotiations,” one source said. “We would hand over a list of prisoners languishing in jails across Afghanistan. If they set free our prisoners then we would meet again for another great cause.”
Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanakzai, the head of Taliban’s Qatar-based political office, is reported to lead the delegation at the upcoming meeting.
There has been no immediate confirmation from the United States.