South of Kabul in Paktika province also Saturday, two local officials were assassinated, including the deputy police chief. No group claimed responsibility for the killings, but Afghan officials believe armed groups linked to the Taliban are behind a string of similar attacks.
Peace talks, launched last week between the Taliban and the Afghan government in Doha, were hailed as a historic opportunity to end decades of war. But while the two sides have met a handful of times, they haven’t agreed on the basic format of the negotiations, including what exactly will be discussed and in what order.
The ongoing violence is “a big concern for us,” said Faraidoon Khwazoon, a spokesman for the Afghan government delegation. Khawazoon said the delegation will include a cease-fire in their agenda for talks with the Taliban, as all Afghans want to see violence reduced.
But Taliban leaders have said they will only agree to a cease-fire once all other issues are resolved and a political settlement is reached, meaning if talks drag on for months, deadly clashes like those witnessed Saturday will likely persist as well.
Statements from both delegations stressing the need for “patience” suggest neither side expects a quick resolution to the talks.
The airstrikes Saturday were launched following Taliban attacks on Afghan military positions in Khan Abad district east of Kunduz city Saturday morning, according to a statement from the Defense Ministry. The statement said more than 30 Taliban fighters were killed and “initial reports indicate no harm was inflicted upon civilians.” But, it added the ministry is aware of reports of civilian casualties.
A Defense Ministry spokesman said he had nothing to add Sunday except that the incident is being investigated and “a team has been formed.” Afghan government investigations into allegations of civilian casualties are generally cursory and their findings are rarely made public.
Abdul Ahad Torial Kakar, a member of the Kunduz provincial council said the first government strike Saturday targeted a gathering of Taliban fighters. Shortly afterward, civilians rushed to the site to extinguish the resulting fire only to be hit with a second strike. Kakar said 10 civilians were killed, 10 wounded and five remain missing.
The Kunduz governor’s spokesman, Esmatullah Moradi, gave a higher toll, with 17 civilians killed and 15 wounded. Moradi said the civilians killed in the second strike were attempting to retrieve the bodies of Taliban fighters killed.
The peace talks in Doha between the Taliban and Afghan government are expected to be more complex than the negotiations between the Taliban and the United States which lasted for over a year.
The two sides have dramatically different expectations for a postwar Afghanistan. The Afghan government delegation wants to preserve elections and civil rights, while the Taliban leaders want the country ruled with a strict interpretation of Islamic law that could do away with elections and equal rights for women and minorities.
Aziz Tassal contributed to this report.