Taliban fighters killed nearly 60 members of Afghanistan’s beleaguered security forces in a spate of attacks across the country’s north, officials said Monday, as diplomatic efforts to end the 17-year war intensify.
Heavy fighting overnight in four provinces followed a wave of violence across the war-torn country in recent weeks that has left hundreds of civilians, police and soldiers dead.
After seizing a military base in Sar-e-Pul, Taliban fighters were threatening the provincial capital in a situation that could result in ‘disaster’ if reinforcements were not sent, the area’s police chief Abdul Qayom Baqizoy warned.
Baqizoy compared the threat to the Taliban’s extraordinary raid last month on the provincial capital of Ghazni — fighters held large parts of the city located just two hours from Kabul for days.
At least 17 security forces have been killed near Sar-e-Pul city after militants seized a checkpoint in Sayyad district and burned it to the ground, provincial governor Zahir Wahdat told journalists Monday.
Air support has been called in, he said. About 39 Taliban fighters have been killed and 14 wounded.
‘The fighting is still ongoing near the city and the central government is going to send more reinforcements soon,’ Wahdat said.
Elsewhere in Afghanistan’s north, the Taliban’s elite Red unit attacked several police posts in Kunduz, killing at least 19 officers and wounding around 20, Dasht-e-Archi district chief Nasruddin Saadi said.
Insurgents also raided two police checkpoints in Dara-e-Suf district of Samangan province, killing 14 officers, northern Afghanistan police spokesman Sarwar Hussaini said.
In Jowzjan province hundreds of Taliban fighters stormed Khomab district centre, near Turkmenistan, killing eight security force members and seizing control of government headquarters, provincial deputy police chief Abdul Hafeez Khashi said.
The increased violence comes as Afghan and international players ratchet up efforts to hold peace talks with the Taliban, which was toppled from power by US-led forces in 2001.
US officials met with Taliban representatives in Qatar in July and there is speculation the two sides will meet again this month, raising hopes for peace.
On Sunday a suicide bomber blew himself up in Kabul during commemorations for famed resistance leader Ahmad Shah Massoud, killing at least seven people and wounding more than 20.
SITE Intelligence group said the local Islamic State group claimed the attack on IS’s propaganda channel Amaq.
The interior ministry would not respond to repeated requests from AFP for details about the latest violence.
Defence ministry spokesman Ghafoor Ahmad Jawed had his phone switched off.
Afghan media under pressure after journalist deaths
Reuters . Kabul
Afghan media are facing growing pressure to cut back coverage of militant attacks following the death of two television reporters who were among 20 killed in an attack on a sports club in Kabul last week.
Following an explosion in April that killed nine reporters, photographers and cameramen covering an attack, Afghanistan has been the deadliest country in the world for journalists this year, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists.
On Wednesday, Samim Faramarz, a reporter for Tolo News, and cameraman Ramiz Ahmadi were killed by a car bomb apparently targeting first responders and journalists as they were covering a suicide attack at a wrestling club in Kabul.
Their deaths came two and a half years after seven Tolo TV employees were killed by a Taliban suicide attacker who rammed a car bomb into a bus driving them home from the station.
Media coverage of attacks had already been noticeably reduced following the deadly blast in April and last week’s incident is likely to restrict coverage further, said Lotfullah Najafizada, head of Tolo News.
‘The space is shrinking,’ he told Reuters. ‘We have lost colleagues in four separate attacks in two years alone. That demonstrates that the media is under immense pressure.’
Afghanistan’s vibrant media sector has been one of the comparatively few undisputed success stories in the years following the overthrow of the Taliban, with the appearance of stations like Tolo as well as an array of competitors including 1TV, Ariana News, Shamshad TV and Khurshid TV.
With international media presence in Afghanistan sharply reduced since the withdrawal of international troops in 2014, domestic media outlets have filled the gap but their work has become increasingly difficult.
‘You have a lot of no-go areas, there is a long list of things you cannot do,’ Najafizada said.
Already large parts of the countryside, much of which is under the control of the Taliban, are out of bounds for journalists, who have been regarded with suspicion and sometimes outright hostility by the insurgents.
As the major cities still controlled by the government become increasingly dangerous, there would be more restrictions on coverage, less access and less support, he said.
‘This is certainly creating another layer of restrictions for a free press which is worrying.’
For the journalists and media workers themselves, the growing roll call of colleagues killed while working is an increasingly oppressive fact of life.
‘It has been proved to the world that Afghanistan is not a safe place for people of Afghanistan and for journalists,’ said Soraya Amiri, a Tolo News producer.
‘This is a clear and bitter fact that we have to believe and accept.’