Kabul (AFP) – Senior US envoy Zalmay Khalilzad has arrived in Kabul for talks with Afghan leaders, an official said Sunday, in his first trip to the Afghan capital since being appointed to lead peace efforts with the Taliban.
The visit by Khalilzad, a former US ambassador to Kabul, Baghdad and the United Nations, comes as the Afghan government and international community intensify efforts to end the 17-year war.
A spokesman for Afghan President Ashraf Ghani said Khalilzad would have dinner with Ghani and other officials on Sunday. He would not provide further details about Khalilzad’s visit.
The US embassy in Kabul did not immediately respond to AFP’s request for comment.
Khalilzad is also scheduled to visit Pakistan, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Qatar as part of a 10-day trip to “coordinate and lead US efforts to bring the Taliban to the negotiating table”, the US State Department said last week.
His arrival comes as the Taliban and the Islamic State group ramp up attacks across the country ahead of this month’s long-delayed parliamentary elections that are seen as a dry run for next year’s presidential vote.
In the latest incident, Taliban fighters killed 14 members of the security forces in a district in eastern Afghanistan that straddles the strategic Kabul-Kandahar highway linking the Afghan capital and the group’s southern strongholds.
The Sayedabad district police chief was among those killed in the heavy fighting overnight, Wardak provincial governor spokesman Abdul Rahman Mangal told AFP.
Another seven were wounded, deputy interior ministry spokesman Nasrat Rahimi said in a statement.
The Taliban also suffered “heavy casualties”, Rahimi added. The group claimed its fighters had killed dozens of security forces.
An electricity cable was destroyed in the battle, severing power to Wardak, Ghazni, Logar and Paktia provinces, power utility Da Afghanistan Breshna Sherkat said in a statement.
The attack on Sayedabad district, which is less than two hours’ drive from Kabul, came shortly after militants destroyed several bridges along the same highway in neighbouring Ghazni province, forcing its temporary closure.
A major Taliban assault on Ghazni’s provincial capital in August triggered five days of fighting with security forces that left hundreds dead.
Separately, the defence ministry is investigating reports of “possible civilian casualties” during clashes in Paktia province on Saturday, spokesman Ghafoor Ahmad Jawed said.
Provincial police chief Raz Mohammad Mandozai told AFP that 10 civilians were killed and 20 were wounded in an air strike on Garda Serai district.
Other local sources said at least 10 people had been wounded in the aerial bombardment.
US Forces, which is the only international force known to conduct air strikes in Afghanistan, denied it carried out the attack.