Clashes between Taliban fighters and government forces in Helmand province resume.
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 to renew peace talks.
Fighting resumed on Sunday on the outskirts of Lashkar Gah, the capital of the sudden southern province of Helmand, an Afghan military spokesman and a local official said.
“Fighting has started in the early hours of today and is still going on,” Attaullah Afghan, head of Helmand provincial council, told AFP news agency.
He said Taliban fighters attacked security controls on the outskirts of Lashkar Gah and other districts.
A spokesman for the Afghan army in the south confirmed that fighting was resuming.
The Taliban, which has maintained an armed rebellion since it was ousted from power in a U.S.-led military invasion in 2001, blamed the Western-backed Kabul administration for resuming fighting.
“They (Afghan forces) started the operation … they don’t blame us,” Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid told AFP.
The armed group has continued to attack Afghan forces even after signing a peace deal with the United States in February 2020. It calls Kabul a Western “puppet regime.”
Just a day earlier, government and armed group negotiating teams met briefly in Qatar, Taliban political spokesman Suhail Shaheen said.
On Saturday, they renewed their commitment to find a peaceful end to the war and called for an early start to talks that have stalled, he said.
Kabul and the Taliban have been holding talks in Doha, the capital of Qatar, since last September as part of the U.S. push to achieve lasting peace in the war-torn country.
The United States has been pushing to speed up talks between the Afghan sides as they withdraw the last of its 2,500-3,500 troops and NATO the remaining 7,000 Allied forces.
Although the Taliban and the government signed the ceasefire, which was declared on the occasion of the Islamic holiday of Eid-al-Fitr, the violence continued unabated in Afghanistan.
A bombing on Friday in a mosque north of the capital killed 12 worshipers, including the prayer leader. Another 15 people were injured.
The Taliban denied being behind the attack claimed by ISIL, according to the SITE Intelligence Group which controls the armed groups. Al Jazeera was unable to independently verify ISIL claims notified by SITE.
In the dark
ISIL also claimed to have operated several power grid stations over the weekend. This left the capital Kabul in the dark for much of the three-day holiday that followed the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan.
In posts on its affiliate websites, ISIL has claimed additional attacks over the past two weeks that destroyed 13 power grid stations in several provinces. The stations provide energy imported from the countries of Central Asia, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan.
The attacks have left nine provinces, including Kabul, with food supplies disrupted, said Sanger Niazai, a government spokesman.
He was also concerned that local armed leaders, who demanded money from the government to protect the stations in the areas they control, could have been part of the destruction.
At least one local armed leader was arrested last year after asking for protection money.
The seemingly unstoppable violence in Afghanistan makes residents and regional countries fear that the final withdrawal of U.S. and NATO soldiers could lead to further chaos.
U.S. President Joe Biden last month announced the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan before 9/11.
On Saturday, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi expressed concern over the rapid withdrawal of US and NATO forces in a phone call with Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi.
Wang described the withdrawal as hasty and warned that it would “severely” affect the Afghan peace process and negatively affect regional stability. He called on the United Nations to play a more important role.