MAZAR-I SHARIF, Afghanistan (Reuters) - Dozens of Afghan police were killed or wounded in heavy fighting in northern and central provinces overnight, officials said on Tuesday, just days before parliamentary elections which the insurgents have promised to disrupt.
The latest fighting came despite increasing signs of moves towards possible peace talks and followed a meeting in Qatar last week between Taliban officials and Zalmay Khalilzad, the new U.S. special envoy for peace in Afghanistan.
In the northern province of Samangan, 11 police, including the province’s deputy police chief, were killed and 30 wounded when Taliban fighters attacked security checkpoints in Dara-e Sof Payeen district, said Naqibullah Tataar, a member of the provincial council.
Another 15 police were captured along with a large quantity of weapons, vehicles and equipment. The Taliban also suffered heavy casualties, he said but had no exact details.
Munir Ahmad Rahimi, spokesman for Samangan police, confirmed the attack and the death of deputy provincial police chief Khawani Taheri but said seven members of the security forces had been killed.
In the central province of Daikundi, hundreds of Taliban fighters equipped with heavy weapons attacked checkpoints in Kajran district and fought an hours-long battle in which eight Afghan soldiers and five police were killed, Ali Akbar Nateqi, the provincial governor’s spokesman said.
The Taliban’s main spokesman, Zabihullah Mujahid, claimed responsibility for both attacks, saying 30 police were killed in Samangan province and 19 killed in Daikundi, with large quantities of weapons and equipment and captured.
Although the latest attacks had no apparent direct link with Saturday’s elections, they underlined the strength of the Taliban who control large areas of the countryside and earlier this year overran the major city of Ghazni.
Security officials see the increased attacks as part of a broad strategy by the insurgents to establish a strong position to impose their demands if formal peace talks begin. The Taliban have also suffered heavy casualties and say they are willing to keep talking about finding a solution to the conflict.
The United States has said it is willing to take part in talks but insists that the process must be led by the internationally recognised Afghan government, which the Taliban regard as an illegitimate regime imposed by foreign powers.
In the meanwhile, thousands of civilians have continued to be killed and wounded in the fighting, with more than 8,000 casualties in the first nine months of the year, according to United Nations figures.
Reporting by Matin Sahak in MAZAR-I SHARIF and Mohammad Stanekzai in LASHKAR GAH; writing by James Mackenzie; editing by Nick Macfie