Clashes between Taliban fighters and government forces resume in Helmand province.
The Afghan government’s three-day ceasefire with the Taliban, marked by violent attacks – some claimed by the armed group ISIL (ISIS) – ended on Sunday amid calls for the resumption of peace talks.
Fighting resumed on Sunday on the outskirts of Lashkar Gah, the capital of the troubled southern province of Helmand, an Afghan army spokesperson and local official said.
“The fighting started early today and is still ongoing,” Attaullah Afghan, head of the Helmand Provincial Council, told AFP news agency.
He said Taliban fighters attacked security checkpoints on the outskirts of Lashkar Gah and other districts.
An Afghan army spokesperson in the south confirmed that fighting has resumed.
The Taliban, who have waged an armed rebellion since being removed from power in a 2001 US-led military invasion, have accused the West-backed administration in Kabul of resuming fighting .
“They (the Afghan forces) launched the operation… let’s not blame ourselves,” Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid told AFP.
The armed group continued to attack Afghan forces even after signing a peace deal with the United States in February 2020. It calls Kabul a “puppet regime” of the West.
A day earlier, the government and armed group negotiating teams met briefly in Qatar, Taliban political spokesman Suhail Shaheen said.
They renewed their pledge on Saturday to find a peaceful end to the war and called for an early start to the stalled talks, he said.
Kabul and the Taliban have been holding talks in the Qatari capital, Doha since last September, as part of the United States’ efforts to achieve lasting peace in the war-torn country.
The United States has pressed to speed up talks among Afghan stakeholders as it withdraws the last of its 2,500 to 3,500 troops and NATO its remaining 7,000 allied forces.
Even as the Taliban and the government signed the ceasefire, which was declared to mark the Islamic holiday of Eid-al-Fitr, violence continued unabated in Afghanistan.
A bombing on Friday in a mosque north of the capital killed 12 worshipers, including the prayer leader. 15 other people were injured.
The Taliban have denied being behind the attack claimed by ISIL, according to the SITE intelligence group which monitors armed groups. Al Jazeera was unable to independently verify the ISIL allegations reported by the SITE.
In the dark
ISIL also claimed to have blown up several power grid stations over the weekend. This left the capital Kabul in the dark for much of the three-day vacation following the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan.
In posts on its affiliate websites, ISIL has claimed additional attacks in the past two weeks that have destroyed 13 power grid stations in several provinces. The stations bring in electricity imported from Central Asian countries such as Uzbekistan and Tajikistan.
The attacks left nine provinces, including Kabul, with interrupted power supplies, said Sanger Niazai, a government spokesman.
There were also concerns that local armed leaders, demanding government protection funds to protect stations in areas they control, may have been behind some of the destruction.
At least one local armed leader was arrested last year after demanding money for protection.
The seemingly unstoppable violence in Afghanistan has raised concerns among residents and countries of the region that the final withdrawal of US and NATO troops could lead to further chaos.
US President Joe Biden announced last month the withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan by September 11 at the latest.
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi on Saturday expressed concern over the rapid withdrawal of US and NATO forces during a phone call with Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi.
Wang called the withdrawal hasty and warned that it would have a “serious” impact on the Afghan peace process and negatively affect regional stability. He called on the United Nations to play a bigger role.