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More Than Two Dozen Killed In Taliban Attacks Despite Peace Talks

Afghan security forces patrol on the outskirts of Helmand on January 17 amid a surge in Taliban violence across the country.

A spate of violence has killed more than two dozen people across Afghanistan, even as peace talks are under way between representatives of the government and Taliban militants in Qatar.

The Defense Ministry said in a statement on January 19 that four Afghan soldiers were killed overnight in Taliban attacks on checkpoints in the northern Kunduz Province.

According to the ministry, 15 Taliban fighters were also killed and 12 were wounded.

However, Ghulam Rabani Rabani, a provincial council member in Kunduz, disputed that figure, saying Afghan security forces sustained significantly higher losses with at least 25 soldiers killed in separate attacks in the Dasht-e-Archi district, including 13 soldiers and four police officers.

At least eight other soldiers were killed near Kunduz city, the provincial capital, Rabani said.

Zabihullah Mujahid, a Taliban spokesman, said the militants were behind all the attacks. The Taliban was able to seize weapons and ammunition from the checkpoints, he said.

The discrepancy in the reported casualties could not be verified independently as Kunduz is off limits to journalists and the Taliban holds sway across most of the province's rural areas.

In southern Helmand Province, Abdul Zahir Haqyar, a government representative in the Washer district, was shot dead by unidentified gunmen late on January 18, said Abdul Nabi Elham, the provincial governor of Helmand.

No one immediately claimed responsibility for that attack.

Separately, in southern Uruzgan Province, at least 10 people, including women and children as well as a journalist and a policeman, were wounded in the explosion of a sticky bomb attached to a motorcycle, according to Mohammad Omar Sherzad, the provincial governor.

In the capital, Kabul, a car caught fire after the apparent explosion of a magnetic device, wounding at least two people, Ferdaws Faramarz, a spokesman for Kabul police, told RFE/RL.

The Islamic State group has claimed responsibility for multiple attacks in Kabul in recent months.

Taliban representatives and the Afghan government earlier this month resumed peace talks in Qatar, the Gulf Arab state where the insurgents maintain an office.

The halting talks are aimed at ending decades of conflict, but a recent spike in violence that each side blames on the other is threatening progress.

Under a deal signed in February last year by the Taliban and the Trump administration, an accelerated withdrawal of U.S. troops means that just 2,500 American soldiers will still be in Afghanistan when President-elect Joe Biden takes office on January 20.

With reporting by AP
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