May 19, 2016
Taliban have captured a district in northern Afghanistan following several days of fighting even as the government signed a draft peace agreement with the militant group’s allies.
The Surkh Kotal district in Baghlan Province fell to Taliban militants on Wednesday after security forces fled the area, local officials said.
Reports said two Afghan soldiers were killed during the clashes that began late on Saturday night.
The Ministry of Defense said 31 militants had been killed in air and ground operations in Surkh Kotal and Markzai districts.
Taliban’s capture of Surkh Kotal came after the government signed a draft agreement on Wednesday with the Hezb-e-Islami militant group.
Authorities hope the accord could bring lasting peace with the group whose leader Gulbuddin Hekmatyar has been one of the top militant figures fighting against the government in Kabul.
Under the draft, members of the militant group would be offered an amnesty, and those held in prisons would be released. Afghan officials would also work to remove the group from a UN blacklist.
Also, the group would not join the government but would be recognized as a political party and be engaged in the political decision-making.
A senior official said the draft accord was a positive step but more work would be needed for a final deal.
Afghanistan faces a security challenge years after the US and its allies invaded the country in 2001 as part of Washington’s so-called war on terror.
The offensive removed the Taliban from power, but many areas in the country are still beset by insecurity.
Taliban have stepped up their attacks against the government and foreign troops as part of their spring offensive.
With President Ashraf Ghani trying to draw insurgent groups away from the battlefield and into the political process, there is little sign that Taliban are ready to join peace talks.
Taliban’s latest capture came as officials from Pakistan, the US, China and Afghanistan held another round of meetings in Pakistan aimed at laying the ground for negotiations with the militant group.
Human rights groups have criticized the move towards a deal with militants but the Afghan government is under foreign pressure to go ahead with the process anyway.
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