26 Pro-Government Afghans Killed in Fighting   

As many as 26 members of Afghan local forces or pro-government militias were killed over the past two days in northern Afghanistan in fighting with the Taliban, according to the Ministry of Defense and local officials.  On Sunday night, Taliban  fighters attacked local Afghan forces in Khwaja Ghar district in Takhar province. Mohammad Jawad Hijri, a spokesman for Takhar’s governor, told VOA fighting continued for hours and the attack was only repulsed after reinforcements arrived.    A Defense Ministry statement said 17 of those killed belonged to the Afghan local army, which is different from the regular national army in Afghanistan. Officially called the Afghan National Army Territorial Force, the local force under the leadership of the army was created in 2018 to allow locals to guard their own territories.    “[T]hey work extremely well, producing determined fighters with local knowledge who protect the civilians in their areas and often stand their ground more than regular troops because they have nowhere else to retreat to,” wrote Kate Clark, the co-director of Afghanistan Analysts Network in a dispatch about the local force.    Meanwhile, provincial officials in Balkh confirmed a separate Taliban attack Saturday in the Shulgra district that killed nine men and wounded seven others. All of them belonged to local militias known as anti-Taliban uprising forces.    The Taliban have not yet commented on these incidents, but the insurgent group has come under heavy criticism for continuing attacks that often kill innocent civilians.    FILE – Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the leader of the Taliban delegation, and Zalmay Khalilzad, U.S. envoy for peace in Afghanistan, shake hands after signing an agreement at a ceremony in Doha, Qatar, Feb. 29, 2020.For a week in February, leading up to the Taliban’s signing a historic deal with the United States to end the war in Afghanistan, all sides agreed to reduction in violence. Security incidents around the country dropped to a trickle. The Afghan government and its allies were hoping the reduction in violence would continue but the level of Taliban attacks increased soon after the week was over.    Findings by Afghanistan’s local Tolonews channel showed the Taliban have carried out more than 2,000 attacks on Afghan security forces since the signing of the deal on February 29.  A countrywide cease-fire was supposed to be one of the top items on the agenda of talks between the Taliban and other Afghan factions. Those talks have been postponed due to a delay in the release of as many as 5,000 Taliban prisoners by the Afghan government.   FILE – In this handout photo taken and released on April 11, 2020 by Afghanistan’s National Security Council, Taliban prisoners stand before being released from the Bagram prison next to the US military base in Bagram, some 50 km north of Kabul.However, in the past two weeks, the Afghan government has released around 361 prisoners in batches, and the Taliban has released around 60 security forces personnel held by them, raising hopes that the two sides may be inching closer to the start of talks.        

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