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Afghanistan forces repel Taliban attack on military base in Helmand

A Taliban attack on a U.S.-Afghan base was repelled in southeast Afghanistan, officials said Friday, March 1, as fighting continues in the war-torn country amid a pause in ongoing peace talks between the insurgents and American negotiators in Doha.

The militants launched the pre-dawn assault on Shorab military base in Helmand province – where an unspecified number of U.S. troops are also stationed – engaging in heavy firefights with Afghan forces.

“Right now, the Afghan commando forces are carrying out a clean-up operation in the area,” said Omar Zwak, a spokesperson for the provincial governor.

Provincial and defense officials said at least four attackers were killed in the skirmish.

Six Afghan soldiers were killed in the attack, Reuters reported a senior Afghan security official as saying.

U.S. forces spokesperson Colonel Dave Butler also confirmed the incident, tweeting: “The attack was repelled by the brave Afghan Security Forces.”

Butler later added that reports indicated “Taliban fighters were initially able to gain access to the Afghan base but were stopped by Afghan forces,” and said there were no casualties among the coalition troops.

The Taliban control or contest more than half of Helmand’s districts and regularly deliver heavy blows to Afghan forces, who have been struggling to hold off insurgents across Afghanistan since taking the lead from NATO forces in late 2014.

The assault on Shorab comes as U.S. and Taliban negotiators in Doha have temporarily halted peace talks, which are set to restart over the weekend.

U.S. special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad called the latest meetings in the months-long diplomatic push “productive,” saying the two sides “will take the next two days for internal deliberations, with plans to regroup on Saturday.”

Heavy snowfall across large swathes of Afghanistan has led to a sharp reduction in violence this winter, but warmer weather in the country’s south will likely lead to an increase in bloodshed with the arrival of the spring fighting season.

Analysts have warned that the Taliban are likely to ramp up attacks this spring as they attempt to maintain momentum on the battlefield and leverage at the negotiating table.

Afghan forces, however, claim to be taking the fight to the insurgents, with the Ministry of Defense saying more than 100 “terrorists” have been killed in recent days in various operations across the country.

The U.S. has also intensified its air campaign against the Taliban and Islamic State Khorasan Province, dropping twice as many munitions on insurgent positions in 2018 compared to the previous year.

Afghanistan fears spillover of India-Pakistan tensions

With reporting from AFP

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