Taliban launch deadly attack as they attend Afghan peace talks

The Taliban have killed at least 21 people in their latest attacks in Afghanistan, despite the beginning of peace talks with Afghan officials in Moscow.

Among the dead were 11 policemen slain when fighters stormed a checkpoint in northern Baghlan province, provincial officials said on Tuesday.

The attacks were reported as Taliban representatives began meetings with prominent Afghan figures, including former President Hamid Karzai, opposition leaders and tribal elders – but not Kabul government officials.

In the checkpoint attack, the Taliban targeted the local police force in the province’s Baghlani Markazi district on Monday night, triggering a gunfight that lasted for almost two hours, said Safder Mohsini, head of the provincial council.

Five policemen were also wounded and the Taliban seized all the weapons and ammunition from the security before reinforcements arrived, he said.

“They arrived there late, fought back and managed to get the checkpoint under control,” he added.

Near-daily attacks

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Earlier on Monday, the Taliban targeted a local pro-government militia in a village in northern Samangan province, killing 10 people there, including a woman, said Sediq Azizi, spokesman for the provincial governor.

Four people were also wounded in that attack, in Samangan’s Dara-I Suf district, he said.

According to Azizi, the Taliban targeted local villagers, including women and children. As the area is very remote, the villagers have their own militia to provide security for their area and defend their homes from armed fighters.

The Taliban claimed both attacks in statements to the media.

They have been staging near-daily attacks, inflicting heavy casualties on the embattled Afghan army and security forces, as the US is keen to pullout of the war-torn country.

‘A step forward’

The two-day meeting in Russia‘s capital between the Taliban and mainly Afghan opposition figures, is seen as another step in a process aimed at resolving the country’s 17-year war, one that has accelerated since the appointment of US peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad last September.

But the Moscow meeting has sidelined Afghan President Ashraf Ghani‘s government, which has criticized the gathering.

Ghani has repeatedly called on the Taliban to begin talks with his government, which the Taliban refuses to recognise, calling it a “puppet” of the US.

He was excluded from six days of discussions between the armed group and the US in the Qatari capital, Doha, last month that reportedly sealed the outline of a peace deal.

Abdullah Abdullah, the country’s chief executive, said on Monday that the Afghan government should be at the centre of any peace talks, adding that Kabul “would prefer the Moscow meeting had a different shape”.

Abdullah said that Taliban were the biggest obstacle to peace, but that if the Moscow meeting creates “an opening for real peace talks, it would still be a step forward”.

Among those attending the meeting is Haneef Atmar, a former national security adviser who is running against Ghani in presidential elections set for July. Ex-Governor Atta Muhammad Noor and former Afghan President Hamid Karzai – both Ghani rivals – are also attending.

The Taliban is scheduled to hold another round of peace talks with the US in Doha on February 25.

Al Jazeera and news agencies

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