Afghanisan: Taliban claim attack as spring offensive begins

At least six people have been killed and more than 50 wounded in Kunduz

"40 Taliban terrorists were killed, 12 were injured and 13 hideouts and enemy positions were destroyed", the bodies said in a joint press release, published by the Defense Ministry on Twitter.

Many Afghans are anxious that in America's push for a settlement, concerns for human rights and democracy will ultimately be cast aside and the Taliban will return to power and reimpose their extreme version of Sharia law.

At least two Afghan troops were killed in the incident, along with 27 Taliban fighters, according to Attahullah Khogyani, the governor's spokesman.

According to Dawn news reports, Pompeo's remarks have come during a two-day congressional hearing on the U.S. state department's proposal of a budget this week.

"At a time when all Afghans should come together in talks to determine a common future, a call for fighting suggests the Taliban are stuck in the ways of the past", he said.

The spike in violence came a day after the Taliban announced their annual spring offensive, dealing a blow to expectations of a USA -led dialogue with the insurgent group to find a political end to the 18-year-old Afghan war and a reduction in violence during this year's fighting season.

On Friday, the Taliban launched the annual spring offensives with the declared intention of overrunning large areas, including townships.

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In the western province of Ghor, at least seven members of Afghan security forces were killed in a Taliban ambush, the provincial governor's spokesman, Abdul Hai Khatibi, said.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani's palace on Saturday condemned "in the strongest words" the announcement of Operation Fath.

The Taliban have long refused to speak officially with Kabul, dubbing the government a "puppet" of the West, and the militants have insisted that government officials are attending only in a "personal capacity". "All sides must end unnecessary violence, and instead engage in intra-Afghan dialogue which leads to negotiations on a political settlement and a roadmap to end the war this year", he said.

The spring offensive traditionally marks the start of the so-called fighting season, though in reality fighting in recent winters has continued unabated.

Mr Khalilzad leads the United States team in talks with the Taliban that are held in Doha, Qatar, with Pakistan's support, which responded positively to a USA request to facilitate the talks.

The Taliban effectively controls almost half of Afghanistan and has continued to launch frequent attacks on security forces despite holding several rounds of peace talks with the United States in recent months after almost 18 years of war.

Worldwide travel restrictions were lifted on members of the Taleban's negotiating team, including its leader Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, Taleban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said.

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