KUNDUZ -- The Taliban killed at least 23 Afghan troops and nine civilians, officials said Monday (April 20), as a fresh wave of violence grips Afghanistan despite a deal with the United States and a worsening coronavirus crisis.
Under the terms of the US-Taliban deal, the Afghan government and the insurgents were by now supposed to have concluded a prisoner exchange and started talks aimed at bringing about a comprehensive ceasefire.
But the stalled prisoner swap has been beset with problems -- with Kabul claiming the Taliban are demanding the release of some of the group's most notorious militants.
Late Sunday (April 19) night in Takhar Province, the Taliban struck an Afghan army base, killing 16 soldiers and two policemen, provincial police spokesman Abdul Khalil Aseer told AFP.
The governor's spokesman, Muhammad Jawad Hejri, confirmed the attack and also blamed the Taliban, putting the death toll at 19.
In the south, the Taliban attacked a police checkpoint near Tirin Kot, Uruzgan Province.
"Five Afghan policemen were killed, and three others were wounded," Zergai Ebadi, the provincial governor's spokesman, told AFP.
The toll was confirmed by the chairman of the Uruzgan provincial council, Amir Mohammad.
Taliban targets civilians
In Balkh Province, the Taliban killed nine civilians after they resisted when insurgents tried to extort money from them, according to District Governor Sayed Arif Iqbali.
On Saturday (April 18), the Afghan government accused the Taliban of capturing and releasing civilians whom the Taliban misidentified as Afghan security personnel after the militants released 40 prisoners last week in Laghman Province.
"Taliban must uphold their end on prisoners by releasing ANDSF personnel from the list that the government has given them. They must also stop capturing and torturing civilians and minors," Javid Faisal, a National Security Council spokesman, tweeted April 18. "They must release all civilians in their custody immediately and commit to a ceasefire."
Only nine out of 40 individuals released by the Taliban in Laghman Province were members of the Afghan National Defence and Security Forces (ANDSF), Faisal said.
"Twenty-eight of those released recently were taken by Taliban after the group signed the Doha deal and committed to releasing 1,000 ANDSF personnel," he said. "Taliban also released 12 ALP [Afghan Local Police] who deserted to the group less than a month ago. They will be charged under [the] law."
US pledges continued support
On April 19, the Taliban released a list of attacks conducted by the coalition and Afghan forces against the group in a month, accusing the United States of violating the peace agreement it signed with the militants on February 29 in Doha.
US forces based in Afghanistan swiftly rejected the Taliban claims, saying coalition forces would continue to support Afghan forces in accordance with the written terms of the agreement.
"All sides, but especially the Taliban, must reduce violence to allow the political process to take hold." TOLOnews cited Gen. Scott Miller, the top US general in Afghanistan, as saying.
The United States "remains committed" to the deal with the Taliban, and "US Forces-Afghanistan, in accordance with the written terms of the agreement, continue to support and defend the Afghan Security Forces," said Miller spokesman Col. Sonny Leggett, according to TOLOnews.
Fighting has continued even as the coronavirus spreads throughout Afghanistan.
So far, the country has seen 1,026 cases of COVID-19 and 36 deaths, though real numbers are feared to be much higher as the impoverished country has only limited testing capabilities.