Fourteen members of the Afghan security forces were killed in two separate attacks Thursday in the first deadly assaults officials have blamed on the Taliban since the end of a three-day ceasefire.
The short truce ended Tuesday but an overall lull in the country’s grinding violence has largely held despite the latest attacks, raising hopes the militants and Kabul could soon start much-delayed peace talks.
Taliban fighters attacked a checkpoint north of the capital in Parwan province early on Thursday, said Waheeda Shahkar, spokeswoman for the provincial governor.
“The Taliban have also suffered casualties,” Shahkar told AFP, saying seven members of the Afghan forces died.
District police chief Hussain Shah said Taliban fighters set fire to the checkpoint, killing five security force personnel. Two more were shot dead.
In the western city of Farah, Taliban gunmen mounted an attack on a police post, killing seven policemen, provincial police spokesman Mohibullah Mohib told AFP.
“Eight Taliban fighters were also killed in the clash that lasted for half-an-hour,” he said, adding four policemen survived the attack.
The Taliban have so far not commented on the incident.
Thursday’s attacks are the first such assaults Afghan officials have blamed on the Taliban since the end of the surprise ceasefire offered by the militants over the Eid al-Fitr festival.
Afghan security forces, however, carried out air strikes in the south on Wednesday that police said had killed 18 “militants”.
According to Afghanistan’s Independent Human Rights Commission, civilian casualties fell by 80 percent during the ceasefire.
Kabul-based political analyst Sayed Nasir Musawi said he expected the insurgents to reduce attacks, without officially extending the ceasefire.
“Unofficially this ceasefire will continue and we will have a meaningful reduction in violence,” Musawi said.
He added that the truce offer from the Taliban was a signal to the Afghan government and the United States that they were ready to start peace talks.
Afghan authorities have responded to the ceasefire by pushing forward with an agreed prisoner exchange, releasing some 1,000 Taliban prisoners this week, with plans to release more in the coming days.
As part of the ongoing swap, the militants on Thursday released 80 Afghan policemen and soldiers they’d been holding captive, Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen said.
A Taliban delegation was in Kabul on Thursday to further discuss the prisoner swap with government officials, National Security Council spokesman Javid Faisal told AFP.
The exchange is part of a US-Taliban deal signed in February, which excluded the Afghan government.
Kabul had already freed about 1,000 Taliban inmates before the ceasefire, while the insurgents had previously released about 300 government captives.
The Afghan government has repeatedly called for extending the truce and launching peace talks.
The future of talks “depends on the Taliban’s next move”, Faisal told AFP this week.
US President Donald Trump’s administration has made it a priority to end America’s longest war, and in a bid to pull out foreign forces US officials have been pushing the Taliban and government leaders to hold peace talks.