At least seven civilians have been killed in a roadside bomb blast in Afghanistan’s northern Kunduz province, local officials said.
The blast struck a small truck carrying a group of labourers late on Monday in the volatile district of Khan Abad.
According to local officials, the area is under the control of the Taliban armed group, which has staged a number of deadly attacks on Afghan security forces there in recent weeks.
Six people were wounded in Monday’s blast, two of whom are in critical condition, according to the district chief, Hayatullah Amiri.
Earlier this year, a United Nations report said more than 10,000 people were killed or wounded in the Afghanistan war in 2019 alone.
Violence had surged after the Taliban signed a landmark agreement with the United States in February, which paves the way for the withdrawal of all foreign forces by May next year.
However, violence across much of the country has dropped since May 24 when the Taliban announced a surprise three-day ceasefire to mark the Eid al-Fitr holiday.
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani had welcomed the Taliban ceasefire offer. Authorities said approximately 2,000 Taliban prisoners would be released in a “goodwill gesture” with a view to kick-start the peace talks envisioned in the US-Taliban agreement.
Afghanistan’s former chief executive Abdullah Abdullah, who has been appointed to lead the talks, said his team was ready to begin negotiations “at any moment”.
The Taliban have not yet said when the talks might begin.
Meanwhile, the ties between the Taliban, especially its Haqqani Network branch, and al-Qaeda remain close, independent UN sanctions monitors said in a report made public on Monday.
“The Taliban regularly consulted with al-Qaeda during negotiations with the United States and offered guarantees that it would honor their historical ties,” they said in a report to the UN Security Council, saying the ties stemmed from friendship, intermarriage, shared struggle and ideological sympathy.
Under the February 29 US-Taliban deal, the Taliban promised to prevent al-Qaeda from using Afghan soil to threaten the security of the US and its allies.
The deal also committed the US to reduce its military footprint in Afghanistan to 8,600 troops by mid-July – a level US and NATO officials said they had nearly reached last week.
US forces invaded Afghanistan to topple the Taliban in 2001 after the September 11, 2001, attacks in the US, which killed nearly 3,000 people. The Taliban was accused of providing a safe haven al-Qaeda allegedly used to plan the attacks.
“The success of the agreement may depend upon the Taliban’s willingness to encourage al-Qaeda to put a stop to its current activities in Afghanistan,” the UN monitors said, saying if the Taliban honoured the pact, “it may prompt a split between pro- and anti-al-Qaeda camps.”
US Special Representative for Afghanistan reconciliation, Zalmay Khalilzad, said he believed the report covered the period through March 15, about two weeks after the US-Taliban pact, and it may take time for the Taliban to deliver.
“They have taken some steps. They have to take a lot more,” he told reporters, adding that if the Taliban failed to keep its promises, the US could reconsider its own.