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Taliban Launches Second Attack On Afghan City Despite Peace Talks

FILE: Policemen stand at the site of a suicide bombing in front of the provincial council building in the city of Puli Khumri, capital of northern Baghlan Province.
FILE: Policemen stand at the site of a suicide bombing in front of the provincial council building in the city of Puli Khumri, capital of northern Baghlan Province.

KUNDUZ, Afghanistan -- Taliban militants have reportedly launched a major attack on a second Afghan city, as the U.S. special envoy has said negotiators are on the threshold of an agreement to end the country’s nearly 18-year conflict.

A day after conducting a bloody assault on the strategically important northern city of Kunduz, Taliban militants on September 1 are attacking the Baghlan provincial capital of Puli Khumri, the spokesman for the police chief said.

Interior Ministry spokesman Nasrat Rahimi said militants had taken up positions in two areas of Puli Khumri and were battling Afghan security forces.

"The whole city is closed," Safdar Muhsini, head of the Baghlan provincial council, said. "If the central government does not take quick action, the situation could get worse."

Shortly before that announcement, U.S. peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad had written on Twitter that U.S. and Taliban negotiators were closing in on a deal as they concluded their eighth round of talks in Qatar.

"We are at the threshold of an agreement that will reduce violence and open the door for Afghans to sit together to negotiate an honorable and sustainable peace," he wrote.

He did not give any specifics of the deal and added that he would be traveling to Kabul later in the day to consult with government officials there.

An unnamed senior Taliban negotiator told Reuters that “we will now discuss these developments with our own leadership, while Zalmay Khalilzad is supposed to go to Kabul and inform the Afghan leadership about the decisions made in the peace talks.”

Suhail Shaheen, a spokesman for the Taliban's political office in Doha, said both sides were in discussions to finalize technical issues after having successfully completed the current round of talks.

"We are on the verge of ending the invasion and reaching a peaceful solution for Afghanistan," Shaheen said on Twitter on September 1.

On August 31, Afghan officials said Taliban militants attacked Kunduz from different directions, killing at least 15 people and wounding 75.

The office of Afghan President Ashraf Ghani said Afghan security forces had repelled the attack in some parts of the city, while other officials said that more than 30 militants had been killed.

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid in a Twitter post called the attack "large-scale," while the police spokesman in Kunduz Province reportedly said the attack was "massive" and involved "intense" battles.

The Afghan Interior Ministry said at least 34 Taliban fighters were killed in ground and air operations in three areas of Kunduz city and that clearance operations were under way.

The Interior Ministry said on September 1 that at least 25 people, including 20 Afghan security forces, have been killed in the attack by Taliban militants on Kunduz city.

At least 85 others, including Afghan security forces and civilians, have been injured in the fighting, Interior Ministry spokesman Nasrat Rahimi said.

Rahimi said the city is now fully cleared of Taliban presence.

Presidential spokesman Sediq Seddiqi told reporters the attack was "completely against the peace talks" taking place between the United States and the Taliban. Expectations that a breakthrough in the talks might lead to a peace deal, including a timetable for the withdrawal of thousands of U.S. troops, had been on the rise.

Khalilzad on August 31 tweeted that he had "raised the Kunduz attack in talks today, telling the Taliban that violence like this must stop."

Khalilzad added that General Scott Miller, who commands U.S. forces in Afghanistan, had arrived in Kunduz to assist Afghan forces in defending the city.

U.S. President Donald Trump said on August 30 that the United States had good negotiations going on with the Taliban but had not yet reached a deal.

On August 29, Trump said that the United States will continue to maintain a force in Afghanistan even after a deal was agreed.

The Taliban has long demanded a complete pullout of all foreign forces from the country.

About 20,000 foreign troops, most of them American, are now in Afghanistan as part of a U.S.-led NATO mission to train, assist, and advise Afghan forces. Some U.S. forces carry out counterterrorism operations.

With reporting by AP, AFP, dpa, and Reuters

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