Fighting intensifies in northern Afghanistan after talks collapse

Fighting has picked up in several areas of northern Afghanistan, officials said on Wednesday, days after the collapse of talks between the U.S. and the Taliban aimed at agreeing the withdrawal of thousands of U.S. troops.

Officials said there was fighting in at least 10 provinces, with the heaviest clashes in the northern regions of Takhar, Baghlan, Kunduz and Badakhshan, where the Taliban have been pressing security forces for weeks.

On Wednesday, security forces retook the district of Koran-Wa-Monjan in Badakhshan, the Defence Ministry said in a statement. The district, which fell to the Taliban in July, had offered the insurgents valuable mining revenues from its rich reserves of the famous blue lapis lazuli stone.

It was the third district security forces have secured during a push in the province over recent days after Yamgan and Warduj, which the Taliban had held for the past four years.

In the neighbouring province of Takhar, however, local officials said this week government forces had pulled out of Yangi Qala and Darqad districts, while fighting was going on in Khawja Ghar and Ishkamesh district.

“It is a tactical retreat to avoid civilian casualties in the area. We have fresh forces in the area and soon the districts will be recaptured,” said Jawad Hejri, a spokesman for the Takhar provincial governor.

The latest fighting underscored expectations of an escalation in violence following U.S. President Donald Trump’s abrupt cancellation of talks with the Taliban aimed at withdrawing U.S. troops and opening the way to an end to 18 years of war in Afghanistan.

The Taliban said this week the decision, which Mr. Trump said was caused by the insurgents’ refusal to agree a ceasefire and continued attacks that killed a U.S. serviceman last week, would lead to further American deaths.

President Trump warned on Wednesday that “an unprecedented” U.S. military assault against the Taliban will continue.

Speaking at a ceremony marking the 18th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, Mr. Trump said that over “the last four days” U.S. forces have “hit our enemy harder than they have ever been hit before and that will continue.”

(With AFP inputs