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Taliban Kill Scores As U.S. Peace Envoy Heads To The Region

 An Afghan National Army exercise in central Afghanistan.
An Afghan National Army exercise in central Afghanistan.

Officials in Afghanistan say Taliban attacks have killed at least 10 soldiers and seven police officers, as U.S. peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad opens a tour of the region to push for peace negotiations with the militant movement.

Taliban militants attacked an army outpost in the Khwaja Ghar district of the northern Takhar province early on November 9, provincial police chief Abdul Rashid Bashir said.

At least 10 soldiers were killed and 12 were wounded in the hour-long battle before the militants were repulsed, Bashir said.

The militants suffered "heavy casualties," Bashir added, but didn't elaborate.

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid claimed responsibility for that attack.

Late on November 8, Taliban militants also attacked police forces in Farah, the capital of the western province of the same name. Provincial council member, Abdul Samad Salehi, says seven police officers were killed and three were wounded there.

Khalilzad, who is a former ambassador to Kabul, will visit Afghanistan, Pakistan, the United Arab Emirates, and Qatar this month to push for peace negotiations with the Afghan Taliban, the State Department says.

A statement said Khalilzad will travel to the region from November 8 to 20 and meet with Afghan government officials and “other interested parties to advance the goal of an intra-Afghan dialogue and negotiations that include the Taliban and lead to a sustainable peace.”

For years, the United States has been trying to persuade the Taliban to agree to negotiate an end to the 17-year conflict in Afghanistan, as the Afghan security forces continue to struggle to counter stepped-up attacks by the militant group in its drive to force the Western-backed government in Kabul from power.

U.S. efforts foundered over the militants' insistence on negotiating directly with Washington rather than the Afghan government, which it calls a "puppet" of the United States.

Khalilzad, who is President Donald Trump’s special adviser on Afghanistan, last visited the region last month.

The State Department said he has been “encouraged” to see that both the government in Kabul and the Taliban are “taking steps” toward organizing “authoritative negotiating teams.”

“A sustainable peace requires that all Afghans have a say in their country’s future,” it also said.

"The United States remains committed to a political settlement that results in an end to the war and to the terrorist threat posed to the United States and the world," the statement added. "A peaceful Afghanistan can play a catalytic role in regional trade and development."

As recently as late October, U.S. and Taliban officials conducted preliminary talks in Qatar, where the militants have a political office that serves as a de-facto embassy. The talks come amid an uptick in Taliban violence, with militants staging near-daily attacks on Afghan security forces.

With reporting by AP, Reuters, and AFP