Dozens of Taliban fighters killed as fighting hits insurgent stronghold

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Kandahar (Afghanistan) (AFP)

Dozens of Taliban fighters were killed in heavy clashes overnight between Afghan forces and militants who attacked several checkpoints in the insurgent stronghold of Kandahar, officials said on Sunday.

Taliban militants attacked checkpoints in five districts surrounding the city of Kandahar, against which Afghan forces responded with heavy air and ground assaults, the Defense Ministry said in a statement.

“Security forces repelled the attack, killing 51 terrorists and wounding nine,” the ministry said, without providing details of losses among government forces.

The fighting lasted for several hours into the night, marked by continuous battles and heavy shelling, an AFP correspondent from Kandahar reported.

When contacted, the Taliban did not comment immediately.

The southern province of Kandahar is the birthplace of the radical Islamist movement, and in recent days militants have launched attacks in districts on the outskirts of Kandahar City, the province’s capital.

The Taliban launched a similar offensive in neighboring Helmand province in September, which fled tens of thousands of residents.

The attack, which also targeted the provincial capital of Lashkar Gah, prompted the United States to call for airstrikes to defend Afghan forces.

Since a US-Taliban deal in February, insurgents have not carried out major attacks on key cities, but have launched almost daily assaults against Afghan forces in rural areas.

The surge in violence in recent months comes as the Taliban and the Afghan government engage in peace talks.

Negotiations began on September 12 in the Qatari capital, Doha, but on Saturday both sides announced a break until January 5.

The insurgents and the government both tweeted that they had exchanged “preliminary lists of agenda items for the inter-Afghan talks and held introductory discussions on the topics” to be covered when meetings resumed.

In recent months, Kabul has seen several deadly attacks claimed by the jihadist group Islamic State, including a rocket attack on Saturday that killed a civilian.

A bomb planted on a vehicle killed two civilians in the capital on Sunday, police said.

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