Afghan soldiers stand guard near the site of a suicide car bomb attack in Char Asiab district. File photo/AFP
Afghan forces backed by US forces killed two senior Taliban leaders and at least 38 fighters of the hardline insurgent group in joint air strikes conducted in northern and western regions of Afghanistan, officials said on Sunday.
The operations, launched on Saturday night, were aimed at foiling attacks planned by the Taliban on Afghan forces, said a senior security official in capital Kabul, adding that clashes have escalated following the collapse of diplomatic talks between the US and the Taliban.
The defence ministry in a statement said that the Taliban's designate governor for northern Samangan province, Mawlavi Nooruddin, was killed along with four fighters in an air strike in Dara-e-Soof Payeen district.
But the Taliban denied the governor had been killed.
"He (Nooruddin) is alive," said Zabihullah Mujahid, a Taliban spokesman said in a statement.
In a separate incident, Mullah Sayed Azim, a Taliban designate governor for Anar Dara district in western Farah was killed in a joint Afghan and foreign force raid.
"Sayed Azim was killed along with 34 other insurgents in Anar Dara," said Mohibullah Mohib, a spokesman for Farah provincial police.
Senior security officials in Kabul said several joint operations will be launched against Taliban and Daesh fighters to prevent attacks on Afghan forces and civilians ahead of the presidential polls on Sept. 28.
Fighting picked up in several parts of Afghanistan last week after US President Donald Trump's abrupt cancellation of talks with the Taliban aimed at withdrawing US troops and opening the way to end to 18 year-long war in Afghanistan. Last week the Taliban killed four Afghan special force members in a car bomb blast.
Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanikzai also defended the Taliban's role in recent bloodshed across the country after US President Donald Trump cited an attack that killed an American soldier as his reason for calling off negotiations earlier this month.
Ghani said the message of the five-day gathering was clear: “Afghans want peace” and offered a ceasefire, though he stressed it would not be unilateral. In the statement on Friday, the Taliban rejected a ceasefire, saying attacks will continue during Ramadan but said “fighters are very careful of civilians during any operation.”
A fresh round of talks between the US and the Taliban is to begin in Qatar, just days after US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Washington is hoping for an Afghan peace agreement before Sept.1.
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