KABUL – At least 99 Taliban fighters and 12 government security personnel have been killed in a fierce and lengthy battle in Afghanistan’s western province of Badghis, officials said on Monday.
The fighting has been raging since Saturday in Bala-Murghab district of the province and has also left 25 insurgents and 34 security personnel injured, the defense ministry said in a statement.
On Saturday, government forces launched a major counter-attack against militants to push them back from the center of the district days after the Taliban overran several security checkpoints in the area on April 4.
Security forces had retreated to their headquarters to avoid civilian casualties as the Taliban were using residential houses as their fighting positions, the statement said.
It added that the air force aided Afghan army commandos, special forces of the police and the National Directorate of Security in their offensive against Taliban fighters in which 99 militants were killed and 25 injured.
As bodies of the militants lay scattered in the battlefield, the security forces seized or destroyed their weapons and several vehicles.
“Unfortunately, in this counter-attack, eight members of the army and four policemen were martyred,” the statement said.
The 34 injured security personnel have been airlifted to hospitals.
“Heavy fighting is currently underway,” the statement said.
Most of the Taliban casualties were due to air strikes by Afghan and foreign forces, Jamshid Shohabi, spokesperson for Badghis’ governor, told EFE.
“Taliban are now trying to leave the area and some of the (checkpoints) have already been retaken by the security forces,” Shohabi said.
Bala-Murghab district of Badghis is strategically important for both government forces and the Taliban as it shares a border with neighboring Turkmenistan. The district connects western and northwestern provinces of the country.
The militant attack and the government’s counter-offensive came as officials from the United States and the Taliban have held several rounds of talks in recent months in the United Arab Emirates and Qatar to end the 18-year war in Afghanistan.
The government of President Ashraf Ghani has fiercely opposed the talks and has insisted on having a central role in negotiations with the Taliban.
As the insurgents refuse to engage with Kabul, the government announced it would intensify the offensive against the group.
Currently, the Afghan government controls just 55 percent of the country, while the Taliban rule over approximately 11 percent. The remaining territory is contested between the parties, according to data published by the US Congress’ Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction.