Taliban militants have ambushed and shot dead three Afghan judges and a court staffer while they were traveling from the southeastern province of Paktia to Kabul, local officials say.
Abdullah Hasrat, a spokesman for the governor in eastern Paktia province, said on Thursday that the attack took place in Mohammad Agha district of neighboring Logar province.
“They were travelling in a car but were stopped by the Taliban checkpoint on the road,” media outlets quoted Hasrat as saying.
The militant group, which has been blamed for previous ambushes on the highway linking Logar province to the Afghan capital, did not confirm it was behind the latest assault.
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said he was not aware of the attack but would check with local commanders.
Taliban insurgents fighting to overthrow the Kabul government have long targeted the judiciary in retaliation for harsh sentences given to their fighters.
As Afghan police casualties mounted, the government this year pulled back from hundreds of checkpoints in isolated areas that acted as a magnet for Taliban attacks.
Many Afghans complain that militant groups have now set up checkpoints along the main highways, searching cars and looking for government employees.
The Taliban now control more territory than at any point since the US invasion of the country nearly two decades ago. The United States is desperately trying to end its longest ever war, but peace talks with the Taliban are currently stalled.
In the past year, US Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad held nine rounds of negotiations with the Taliban in Qatar, where the militant group has a political office.
An agreement appeared imminent in early September, but a new wave of violence and the death of a US soldier made US President Donald Trump suddenly call off the talks. The White House also canceled a truce signing ceremony at Camp David of which few had been aware.
The US-Taliban negotiations centered on the US’s withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan.
More than 14,000 US troops remain in Afghanistan and Trump has repeatedly expressed his frustration with their continued deployment. US forces have remained bogged down there through the presidencies of George W. Bush, Barack Obama, and now Trump.
Daesh in Afghanistan targeting ex-Soviet countries
On Thursday, the chief of Russia’s Federal Security Service Alexander Bortnikov said that the Daesh terrorist group was setting up a base in Afghanistan to target former Soviet states using militants from Central Asia.
“We are seeing increased activities of Daesh branches in Afghanistan,” Bortnikov he told a regional security forum in Tashkent.
“Their goal is to increase a base to expand into the CIS (ex-Soviet Commonwealth of Independent States) territory,” he was quoted by TASS state news agency as saying.
The expansion into the ex-Soviet countries “will be done by militants who are citizens of Central Asian republics with experience of warfare as members of terrorist groups,” Bortnikov said.
The comments come on the heels of an attack Wednesday on a border post in Tajikistan which officials blamed on members of the Daesh, who crossed over from Afghanistan.
Tajikistan authorities said 15 attackers were killed and four detained, while a soldier and a policeman were also killed.
Daesh militants have also claimed several attacks in Tajikistan, including a hit-and-run raid that killed four Western tourists on a cycling trip last summer.
In recent years, Daesh has established a foothold in eastern and northern Afghanistan.
Last February, some months after the group’s defeat was announced in Iraq and Syria, the Associated Press reported that the US military was pulling its forces from a base in Iraq and shifting them to Afghanistan.
The report flew in the face of Trump’s campaign promises to end Washington’s Afghanistan intervention.
In April, unnamed US officials warned that Daesh-affiliated terrorists of the so-called ISIS-K group in Afghanistan were preparing to carry out attacks on the US mainland, the USA Today reported.