Taliban kills eight election commission employees in south Afghanistan

The militant group has claimed responsibility for the assault

epa07674969 Afghan Taliban patrol in Waghaz district of Ghazni, Afghanistan, 26 June 2019. Commanders of the Taliban insurgency have threatened to attack media outlets and their staff throughout Afghanistan unless they stop airing advertisements critical with the radical militant group. The Islamist group, which has been engaged in a brutal struggle against the government in Kabul and the United States-led international coalition since the latter invaded Afghanistan in 2001, said it was closely monitoring all media outlets to ensure they complied with their demand  EPA/STRINGER
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Taliban fighters killed eight election commission employees on Saturday night inside a district centre in Afghanistan's southern province of Kandahar, officials said.

The employees of the Independent Election Commission were stationed at the government office in Maruf district to register voters when fighters of the hard line group launched an attack.

The Taliban has claimed responsibility for the attack.

Qari Yousuf Ahmadi, a Taliban spokesman said the fighters killed election commission employees and 57 members of the Afghan National Defence and Security Forces (ANDSF). They also captured 11 others with five vehicles and a large cache of weapons during the attack at the district centre.

But Afghan government officials said the Taliban had exaggerated the casualty figures.

Qaseem Azad, a secretary of the Kandahar police said ANDSF suffered some casualties, but provided no further details.

Fighting between the Taliban and Afghan forces has intensified even as leaders of the Taliban and US officials hold peace talks in Qatar to end 18 years of war in Afghanistan.

The latest round of peace talks between the US and the Taliban began on Saturday and were, another Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen said, ‘critical’.

Shaheen said the both sides are looking for “tangible results” as they try to hammer out the fine print of agreements that will see the eventual withdrawal of over 20,000 US and Nato troops from Afghanistan, and end America’s longest-running war.

FILE - In this Nov. 14, 2001 file photo, Suhail Shaheen, then Deputy ambassador of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, gives an interview in Islamabad, Pakistan. The Taliban spokesman says the seventh and latest round of peace talks with the U.S. is "critical," as the militant group meets with Washington's envoy Zalmay Khalilzad in the Mideastern state of Qatar, where it maintains a political office. (AP Photo/Tariq Aziz, File)

The agreements are also expected to provide guarantees that Afghanistan will not again harbour terrorists to carry out attacks worldwide.

“Getting a comprehensive peace agreement with the Taliban before September 1 would be nothing short of a miracle,” said Michael Kugelman, deputy director of the Asia Programme at the US-based Woodrow Wilson International Centre for Scholars

Separately on Saturday, Taliban fighters killed eight Afghan soldiers and injured eight others at a military checkpoint in Balabulak district in the western province of Farah, a local official said.

Mahmood Naemi, the deputy chief of the council in Farah, said on Sunday ground clashes between the warring sides ended after Afghan forces launched air strikes.

"Many Taliban fighters were killed in the air strike," said Naemi.