The Taliban launched a brazen attack under the cover of darkness early Thursday on an Afghan government compound in western Badghis province, killing at least 20 soldiers and policemen, officials said.
It was the latest attack by the Taliban who target Afghan forces on a daily basis even as they hold talks with a U.S. peace envoy. Fighting continued into the day and early afternoon in Badghis, and officials expressed fears the casualty tolls would be much higher.
According to Mohammad Nasir Nazari, a provincial councilmember, the “massive attack” in Badghis took place before dawn, targeting the local government’s headquarters in the district of Bala.
The Taliban first stormed all the security posts around the compound. The attack put the lives of some 600 members of the security forces deployed there at risk, he added. Jamshid Shahabhi, spokesman for the Badgis governor, said intense fighting was still underway on Thursday afternoon.
Taliban spokesman Qari Yousf Ahmadi claimed responsibility for the attack in a statement to the media.
The attack came as U.S. peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad was heading to Islamabad for talks with Pakistani officials after visiting Kabul where he lobbied for “intra-Afghan dialogue” — talks that would encompass prominent Afghan figures, government representatives and the opposition, as well as the Taliban.
Khalilzad has held several rounds of talks with the Taliban, most recently last month in Qatar where both sides said progress has been made.
But despite the talks, the Taliban still inflict staggering casualties on Afghan forces and now hold sway over half of the country. The insurgents refuse to talk directly with the government in Kabul, considering it a U.S. puppet.
In other developments Thursday, a bombing at a clinic in the city of Puli Khumri, the capital of northern Baghlan province, killed a doctor and wounded 18 civilians, according to Javed Basharat, spokesman for the province’s police chief. Two children and a woman were among the wounded.
And in eastern Nangarhar province, a sticky bomb attached to a mini bus wounded five people, said police official Zaman, who like many Afghans uses only one name. No militant groups immediately claimed responsibility for the attacks in Baghlan and Nangarhar.
In Kabul, the country’s intelligence agency — the National Directorate of Security — said its officers arrested at least six suspected members of the Islamic State group trying to recruit young Afghans for attacks through social media.
The statement also said the NDS arrested 10 members of IS with 250 kilograms (550 pounds) of explosives in eastern Nangarhar province.