By Baber Khan Sahel
Kabul, Aug 20 (efe-epa).- At least 14 security force members were killed and seven wounded in an attack in the northern Takhar province of Afghanistan on Thursday, officials said.
Takhar police spokesperson Khalil Ahmad Aseer told EFE that dozens of Taliban fighters attacked security check posts manned by pro-government militia in Khawaja-Bahawdin district around 2 am.
“Unfortunately, 13 members of a local uprising group were martyred and four others were injured,” Aseer said.
Another security official in the province told EFE that one member of the security forces, dispatched for reinforcement to the area, was also killed and three were injured.
The check posts were manned by one of the so-called “Public Uprising Force”, pro-government local militia forces.
Local militia leader Malik Ahmad Tataar, who has been leading an initiative by hundreds of locals to safeguard their villages against Taliban attacks,
commandeered the check posts.
Afghanistan’s intelligence agency, or the National Directorate of Security, has been supporting these local militia groups with money and equipment in volatile, insecure, and contested areas of the country to help regular security forces against the Taliban.
The attack ended after two hours of fighting after reinforcement of the security forces arrived and the insurgents were pushed back, Aseer said.
Taliban fighters also suffered casualties in the clash but the exact number remains unknown.
The recent clash in Takhar is among the many guerrilla attacks by the Taliban in recent weeks in remote and insecure parts of the country, despite an unofficial de-escalation in violence that has been prevalent over the last fortnight.
The reduction in violence has continued since a three-day ceasefire was announced and observed by the Afghan security forces and the Taliban during the Eid al-Adha celebrations – one of the most important festivals for Muslims – between July 31 and Aug. 2.
Since then, the Afghan security forces have remained in a defensive posture and only responded when the insurgents have attacked first.
The ongoing reduction in violence has been a part of the efforts to pave the way for the start of the intra-Afghan talks between the rebels and the Afghan government after nearly two decades of war.
The peace talks, as per an agreement between the United States and the Taliban in Doha in late February, have been delayed by more than five months due to a disagreement over a prisoner swap deal that was a precondition for the process.
Last week, the Afghan authorities freed 80 of the 400 prisoners remaining under its custody as part of the prisoner swap deal in which 5,000 Taliban fighters would be released in exchange for 1,000 government personnel. The Taliban had already completed its part of the swap on Jul.30.
However, the remaining prisoners are yet to be released owing to delays caused by three major reasons, among them Australia and France’s opposition to the release of up to seven Taliban members who were involved in attacks on their nationals in Afghanistan.
The other two reasons include calls by the Afghan government to release the “small number” of the captured security forces that have remained with the Taliban, and the high incidence of violence perpetrated by the rebels ahead of the talks.
However, the insurgents have reiterated they will not start the intra-Afghan talks until all the 5,000 prisoners they have demanded are released from the jail. EFE-EPA