Wave of Taliban Attacks Kills at Least 20 Afghan Soldiers
KABUL, Afghanistan — The Taliban staged three attacks in southern Afghanistan on Saturday, killing at least 20 Afghan soldiers as a high-level NATO delegation was visiting the country to discuss the peace process.
The insurgents have been striking checkpoints and small outposts at night in the turbulent southern provinces of Farah and Helmand.
In one attack, the insurgents detonated explosives packed into an American-made Humvee that had been captured from the Afghan Army. And in another, they made off with a Humvee, replenishing their supply.
In the most lethal strike, insurgents overran a checkpoint in Farah Province around 3 a.m. Saturday. An Afghan Army spokesman said that 18 government soldiers were killed and two others wounded, and that a firefight with the attackers had continued even after reinforcements arrived.
A member of the provincial council in Farah, Dadullah Qani, said that more than 20 soldiers had been killed and that the Taliban had captured the Humvee and burned an army truck.
“The fighting between the Taliban and the army continued for more than two hours,” he said.
A spokesman for the Taliban, Zabihullah Mujahid, offered a slightly different account in a statement delivered on the messaging service WhatsApp. He said the insurgents had overrun the checkpoint, killing 25 soldiers, capturing two alive and making off with both a Humvee and a truck.
“A lot of heavy and light weapons were also captured,” Mr. Mujahid said.
The Taliban also staged two suicide strikes in Helmand Province, including the one involving the explosive-laden Humvee, which are armored and are sometimes able to drive through defensive fire.
Those attacks killed two soldiers and wounded about a dozen civilians, including women and children, according to regional and hospital officials.
Also on Saturday, a suicide attacker detonated explosives at a checkpoint in Kabul on the edge of the Green Zone, a heavily guarded district of embassies, Afghan government offices and the presidential palace.
The attacker detonated the bomb after soldiers and intelligence officers stopped him at a checkpoint, said Najib Danish, a spokesman for the Interior Ministry. The blast killed at least three people and wounded a half-dozen others, he said.
An official with the National Directorate of Security, Afghanistan’s domestic intelligence agency, said that an officer with the agency who was killed had hugged the attacker after discovering the bomb, shielding his colleagues from the blast.
The headquarters of the United States-led international forces in Afghanistan was briefly locked down after that attack, but opened soon after for a briefing by members of the NATO delegation, led by Gen. Curtis M. Scaparrotti, the supreme allied commander in Europe.
“I believe we made substantial progress,” General Scaparrotti said of his impressions from the visit.
The delegation met with Afghan officials ahead of a multilateral peace conference in Kabul.
Last month, President Trump seemed to dismiss negotiations with the Taliban, though talks between the American-backed Afghan government and insurgents are the stated United States plan for ending the war.
“We don’t want to talk with the Taliban,” Mr. Trump said at a meeting with United Nations officials. “There may be a time, but it’s going to be a long time.”
“I think after that, however, going forward, he absolutely supports a peace in Afghanistan,” she said.
Little progress has been made. “There have to be certain agreed areas of conversation that both sides would be willing to put on the table,” Ms. Hutchison said. “So, talks about beginning talks are certainly in the works, in different forms.”
“Don’t think that nothing is happening,” she added. “There is a lot that is happening.”