Taliban militants attacked a military base in the northern Kunduz province, Afghanistan, on Sunday despite reports during the week that a ceasefire deal between the Taliban and U.S. is under negotiation.
Afghan officials on Friday announced the death of a Taliban deputy commander in a precision airstrike and thwarted several suicide bombings on Monday.
According to Afghan officials, the attack on the Kunduz base lasted several hours and “martyred” five Afghan army troops, plus three others injured, with an unknown number of casualties on the Taliban side.
The Taliban claimed 19 Afghan security troops were killed, four armored personnel carriers were destroyed, and a large amount of weapons and gear were stolen from the base.
The Afghan Ministry of Defense said a precision airstrike on Friday night killed seven militants, including Jalal Sirat, deputy commander of the Taliban’s “Red Unit” and Ahmadullah Taloqani, a senior Taliban commander in the Takhar district.
The Red Unit is an elite Taliban commando force, better armed and apparently much better trained than most other Taliban fighters or most of the Afghan military, for that matter. They are reportedly equipped with stolen top-shelf U.S. and Russian weapons and gear.
In November, they carried out a string of deadly raids that killed dozens of Afghan troops during a 36-hour period. The U.S. military responded with an airstrike in early December that killed the Red Unit commander, Mullah Shah Wali.
On Monday, the Afghan military reported capturing two Taliban terrorists and four suicide vests during operations in Kabul and Kandahar.
Radio Free Europe reported on Monday that both Afghan officials and Taliban representatives spoke as if ceasefire details are still being hammered out and the agreement could be signed as early as the end of February:
Afghanistan’s Chief Executive Officer Abdullah Abdullah told a meeting of ministers on February 17 that the Taliban has agreed to a seven-day reduction of violence ahead of a peace deal with the United States that was “finalized” and may be signed as soon as February 29.
It was not immediately clear when the reduction in violence was scheduled to begin.
A Taliban spokesman based in Doha, the capital of Qatar, said an agreement between the the militants and the United States will be signed by the end of the month.
“According to the agreement, all foreign troops will leave Afghanistan,” Suhail Shaheen, told the DPA German news via the WhatsApp messaging service. “We will not allow anyone to use Afghanistan’s land [to launch attacks] against another country.”
Some 5,000 Taliban prisoners are to be released following the signing of the agreement and before the beginning of intra-Afghan negotiations, Shaheen added.
“Our leadership hasn’t conveyed any message about a ceasefire to use,” a Taliban commander in the southern Helmand province grumbled to Reuters on Monday. Several other Taliban officers said they planned to continue launching attacks.
The current word from Washington is that a full peace deal with the Taliban will only be implemented if a 7-day “reduction in violence” agreement can be successfully implemented first. Voice of America News on Monday quoted Taliban sources who said the reduction in violence agreement would go into effect on February 22, making it possible to sign the full peace deal after seven (presumably successful) days on February 29.