KABUL -- The Taliban suffered heavy casualties and lost a district on the outskirts of Kabul as fighting resumed early Sunday (May 16) after a three-day ceasefire in observance of Eid ul Fitr.
Clashes erupted Sunday morning after the Taliban stormed security checkpoints on the outskirts of the Helmand provincial capital of Lashkargah, said provincial council chairman Attaullah Afghan.
An Afghan National Army (ANA) spokesman in the south confirmed fighting had resumed as the temporary truce ended late Saturday, while the Helmand governor's office said Afghan forces had killed 21 Taliban fighters.
Also Sunday, Afghan National Defence and Security Forces (ANDSF) began an operation to retake a district in Maidan Wardak province from the Taliban.
Nerkh district, a Taliban stronghold about 40km from Kabul, has long been a gateway for the insurgents to the capital and a launchpad for deadly attacks.
"Today, our forces managed to recapture a strategic area in the district," said Rohullah Ahmadzai, a Defence Ministry spokesman.
ANDSF take the lead
The ANDSF have continued to receive vital air support from the United States even as US and NATO forces withdraw and hand over key bases.
They have taken the lead in planning and conducting military operations for a year and can independently fight the Taliban, said Fawad Aman, a Defence Ministry spokesman.
In recent weeks, the Taliban have attempted to take over Helmand, Kandahar, Baghlan, Herat, Farah and Ghazni provinces, he said.
Not only have they failed to capture any major city or province, he said, but they have sustained heavy casualties, as the ANDSF killed more than 1,000 of their fighters, commanders and key members.
"The Taliban cannot defeat the ANDSF and absolutely cannot gain power militarily," he said, adding that the more the Taliban increase their attacks, the more fighters they will lose.
"The Taliban must seize the ongoing opportunity for peace; otherwise, they will be eliminated," Aman said.
Negotiators from the Afghan government and Taliban teams met Friday to discuss reactivating stalled peace talks, officials from both sides said.
Taliban plans thwarted
"Thousands of Taliban fighters either have been killed or injured over the past month," said Interior Affairs Ministry spokesman Tariq Arian, citing clashes in Zabul, Badakhshan, Kandahar, Ghazni, Helmand, Logar, Herat, Kunar, Paktia, Balkh, Takhar, Jawzjan and Nimroz.
Key Taliban commanders Muslim Mansour and Mullah Daud were among those killed, Arian said.
"Although the Taliban have been using all their combat capacity to achieve their goals, the ANDSF still hold an upper hand on the frontlines," said military affairs analyst Aziz Stanakzai.
By thwarting the Taliban, the ANDSF have proved themselves capable of fighting and defeating the Taliban, he added.
The Taliban have stepped up their attacks in recent days at the behest of regional intelligence networks that are supporting them, said Kabul military affairs analyst Zalmai Afghanyar.
Their attempts to seize provinces and major cities are a bid to show the international community they can regain power by force, he said.
But the Taliban's calculation proved wrong, he added.
Attacks on civilians
After their defeat on the battlefields, the Taliban sought revenge on civilians, said university student Sayed Mohsin of the Dasht-e-Barchi neighbourhood of Kabul.
He blamed the Taliban for killing dozens of schoolgirls in a May 8 attack outside Sayed Al-Shuhada School in his neighbourhood. A car bomb detonated in front of the school, and when the students rushed out, two more devices exploded.
The blasts, which took place as residents were shopping ahead of Eid ul Fitr, killed more than 50 people, mostly female students, and wounded more than 100 in the west Kabul suburb populated mostly by Shia Hazaras.
The Taliban have killed or wounded dozens of students in Logar province too, said Mohsin.
The Taliban have tried every military tactic at their disposal to gain power, but after 20 years of war, they should realise fighting is not a solution, said political affairs analyst Salim Paigir.
"The Taliban's political and military leaders must understand that they have failed on the battlefields, so it is better for them to pursue their goals through negotiation and peace," Paigir said.
There is now a historic opportunity to make peace, said Maulawi Zabihullah Ateeq, a member of the Wolesi Jirga from Badakhshan, appealing to the Taliban not to squander the opportunity.
"The Taliban have fought for the past 20 years but achieved nothing," Ateeq said. "They do not have any other option but to join the ongoing talks and negotiate a peace settlement with the government."