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Security ‘ops’ kill 71 fighters across Afghanistan: Defense

US Army chief of staff in Kabul

ISLAMABAD, Jan 5, (Agencies): At least 71 fighters were killed and 49 others wounded in security forces operations in different provinces across Afghanistan in past 24 hours, said Ministry of Defense (MoD) on Friday. A statement by Afghan MoD said that the casualties inflicted to the insurgents in ground operations and airstrikes which happened in Nangarhar, Kapesa, Paktia, Paktika, Ghazni, Kandahar, Daikundi, Farah, Badghis, Faryab and Helmand provinces in the past 24 hours. Around 21 “militants” have been killed, 13 injured, a militants’ hideout and a training center were captured in the Khakrez and Shah Walikot districts of Kandahar province.

Meanwhile, eight rebels were killed and 22 others injured in the Bala Murghab district of Badghis province, seven rebels were killed, three others injured and five suspected arrested in Kapesa’s Najrab district and in Helmand’s Nad Ali district six rebels were killed, five others injured and a motorcycle seized. Moreover, four rebels were killed and a motorcycle seized in the Sarobi district of Paktika province. In Farah’s Pushtroad district four rebels were killed and two others injured.

At least three fighters were killed and four others injured in Ghazni’s Qarabagh district while two more insurgents were killed and a vehicle destroyed in the Paktia’s Zurmat district. The ministry also confirmed that two fighters belonging to so-called Islamic State or Daesh were killed in the Pachir Agam district of Nangarhar, their hideouts were destroyed and weapons captured.

The operations came weeks after the meeting between a comprehensive delegation from leadership of Taleban rebels and representatives from the United States in Abu Dhabi to negotiate peace in Afghanistan. The reports have emerged that US President Trump’s administration has ordered the military to start withdrawing roughly 7,000 troops from Afghanistan in the coming months.

Last month, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani replaced two of the country’s top security chiefs. Amrullah Saleh and Assadullah Khaled, both former heads of the Afghan intelligence agency, have been appointed to the critical posts of interior minister and defense minister, respectively.

Meanwhile, An Afghan official says at least seven border police officers were killed when their checkpoint came under attack by insurgents in southern Kandahar province. Aziz Ahmad Azizi, spokesman for the provincial governor in Kandahar, says four other officers were wounded in the attack in the Spin Bolduk district. He added that 16 insurgents were killed and 11 others wounded in an ensuing battle that took place over several hours late Friday. The Taleban did not immediately comment on the attack but they have been carrying out near-daily attacks targeting Afghan forces, despite stepped-up efforts by the United States to find a negotiated end to the country’s 17-year war.

In other news, Taleban fighters are threatening major oil wells near the northern Afghan city of Sar-e Pul following days of fighting in which dozens of members of the security forces have been killed and wounded, officials and residents said on Friday. “The security situation in Sar-e Pul province is alarming,” said Zabiullah Amani, the provincial governor’s spokesman. “We have had promises that reinforcements would be sent to the city but nothing has been done yet,” he said.

About 40 members of the security forces were killed or wounded near Sare Pul on Tuesday during hours of fighting that underlined the heavy pressure Afghan government forces are facing even as moves towards peace have intensified.

“The Taleban have been launching major attacks for some time with the aim of securing these oil fields and we’ve set up a special protection force but they don’t have advanced equipment,” Amani said. The wells in the Angot field, about 11 km east of Sar-e Pul city and Kashkari, 12 km to the south, were developed during the Soviet presence in Afghanistan. Amani said eight wells were active, with millions of dollars’ worth of military equipment, including armoured vehicles stored close by.

“These wells are economically important, not just for the province of Sar-e Pul but for the whole of Afghanistan,” he said. The capture of the wells would deliver a blow to the government and bolster Taleban finances, adding to revenues from taxation, mining and opium. An aide to interior minister Amrullah Saleh said additional forces had been sent to the oil fields from neighbouring districts and a team from Kabul would be sent in coming days. “As of now, the area is secure but we cannot deny the threat warning,” he said, adding that companies operating the wells had been alerted.

The fighting comes as another round of talks is expected between US special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad and Taleban representatives to try to work out the basis for peace talks to end the 17-year Afghan war. With US intentions unclear following reports that President Donald Trump is preparing to withdraw almost half of the estimated 14,000 US troops from Afghanistan, pressure on Afghan forces has been mounting. Hekmat Haidari, a resident of Sar-e Pul city, said the situation in the province had been deteriorating sharply over recent days as the Taleban have stepped up operations. “The oil wells in this province are a major source of income for Afghanistan and specially for Sar-e Pul province and the Taleban are trying to capture these wells or to destroy them,” he said

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