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Western Afghan Fighting Rages As Taliban Keeps Up Attacks Despite Peace Efforts

FILE: An Afghan soldier stands guard at the entrance of a government compound in Farah Province, western Afghanistan May 15, 2018.
FILE: An Afghan soldier stands guard at the entrance of a government compound in Farah Province, western Afghanistan May 15, 2018.

Afghan officials say security forces have reversed some of the Taliban's gains from the militants' latest assaults in the western Farah Province, as the fundamentalist group continues a wave of attacks on military and civilian targets as negotiators try to put the final touches on a U.S.-Taliban peace deal.

Government officials said on September 7 that security forces supported by air strikes eventually repelled an early-morning attack on the provincial capital, Farah.

Taliban spokesman Qari Yousuf Ahmadi earlier described the offensive in Farah as a "massive operation."

Reports suggest President Ashraf Ghani and other Afghan leaders have been increasingly skeptical of the draft peace deal as violence has intensified across Afghanistan.

Ghani on September 6 postponed a planned visit to Washington during which he was to discuss the U.S.-Taliban talks, officials said.

An Afghan cabinet minister who asked not to be named told RFE/RL that the trip was delayed "by the U.S. government because of Mr. Ghani's opposition" to the text of the draft, which U.S. special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad had briefed Ghani on earlier in the week.

A draft deal between U.S. and Taliban officials that includes a timetable for a withdrawal of thousands of foreign troops from Afghanistan was said to have been reached this week "in principle."

But it still needs final approval from Washington and Taliban leaders, and reportedly an endorsement from the government in Kabul, which has not been directly involved in the U.S.-Taliban peace talks to end an 18-year war.

Khalilzad, who has negotiated the draft agreement over the past nine months, told an Afghan news TV channel that the United States will initially withdraw 5,400 troops from Afghanistan and close five bases within 135 days of signing the deal. Most of the remaining 17,000 foreign troops would reportedly leave over the next 18 months.

President Donald Trump has publicly expressed a desire to bring U.S. troops home from the longest war in U.S. history.

But critics, including three former envoys to Afghanistan, have voiced concerns that a foreign withdrawal in the absence of a political settlement between the Taliban and Afghanistan's government could risk lurching the war-ravaged country back into a civil war.

On September 5, reports said Khalilzad abruptly returned to the Qatari capital, Doha, for more talks with the militant group.

Taliban militants on August 31 attempted to seize the provincial capital of Kunduz in the north, where sporadic fighting has continued on the outskirts all week.

The Taliban has claimed responsibility for two major car bombings that killed dozens and injured hundreds more in the Afghan capital, Kabul, since September 2.

The chairwoman of Afghanistan’s Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) said on September 5 that the acting head of that organization's office in the western province of Ghor was found dead after being abducted by Taliban fighters.

With reporting by Reuters

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