Taliban Conducts Attacks Across Afghanistan Ahead of Possible Cease-Fire Negotiations

The Taliban has conducted a string of unrelenting attacks across Afghanistan in recent days in an apparent effort to improve its bargaining position ahead of possible cease-fire negotiations and elections in October.

The militants on Monday abducted 170 civilians in the country’s North as they traveled to the capital city of Kabul. Afghan forces rescued about 150 of the hostages within hours, and are still negotiating for the release of the rest.

On Aug. 10, Taliban soldiers overran the southeastern city of Ghazni. Afghan forces spent five days trying to push out the militants, who included fighters from Pakistan and Chechnya, before regaining control of the city. Interior Ministry spokesman Nasrat Rahimi said the Taliban deliberately inflicted economic damage on the city, destroying several buildings and markets. Even as some normalcy has returned to Ghazni in recent days, the Taliban has continued conducting high-casualty attacks across the country, mostly targeting security officials. On Aug. 13, Taliban militants attacked a base in the northern Faryab province and either killed or captured 106 soldiers. And on Aug. 15, insurgents killed at least 39 people after they overran a police checkpoint and an army base in northern Afghanistan.

U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis last week said the Taliban was likely trying to gain leverage ahead of a cease-fire offer from Afghan President Ashraf Ghani. The group also hopes to incite fear ahead of the country’s elections in October, according to Mattis, “so we’ll continue to see this sort of thing.” Earlier this year, Ghani offered to talk with the Taliban “without preconditions,” but the group maintained it was only open to talking with the United States, which it sees as controlling the Afghan government. A year ago, the Trump administration revised the U.S. strategy on the Afghan war, putting more military resources into protecting Afghanistan and renewing negotiation efforts.

On Sunday, Ghani extended a conditional cease-fire to the group ahead of the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha, which began Monday evening. In a statement ahead of Eid al-Adha, the Taliban said the group was committed to Afghanistan’s sovereignty and maintained the 17-year war would persist unless the group engaged in direct talks with the United States.

Meanwhile, Russia announced Tuesday the Taliban had accepted an invitation to a peace summit Sept. 4 in Moscow. Russia’s stated goal is to ensure regional security by brokering peace between the Taliban and Afghan government, but the Afghan government suspects Russia of cozying up to the Taliban so it will help fight Islamic State (ISIS). The United States was also invited to the summit.

The Taliban considers the latest attacks important precedents in negotiating, following high-level talks with U.S. officials in July, Jason Lyall, a political science associate professor at Yale University, told The Wall Street Journal: “Temporarily holding Ghazni or overrunning isolated military outposts demonstrated the Taliban’s resilience and the Afghan government’s inability to protect its citizens.”

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Source: World Magazine