KABUL -- The U.S. special envoy to Afghanistan says he has struck an agreement with the Taliban to reduce the number of casualties in the country as a wave of violence hampered ongoing intra-Afghan peace talks in Qatar.
Zalmay Khalilzad made the comments on October 15, amid rising fears about the fate of tens of thousands of civilians caught up in battles between Afghan government forces and the Taliban in the southern province of Helmand.
Khalilzad tweeted that he and the commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, General Scott Miller, held several meetings with the Taliban during which the sides agreed to "strictly" adhere to their commitments under a peace agreement signed in Qatar in February. "We agreed to re-set actions by strictly adhering to implementation of all elements of the U.S.-Taliban Agreement and all commitments made," he wrote .
"This means reduced numbers of operations. At present too many Afghans are dying. With the re-set, we expect that number to drop significantly," the U.S. envoy added .
Under the February U.S.-Taliban deal, foreign forces would leave Afghanistan by May 2021 in exchange for counterterrorism guarantees from the militant group.
'Best Chance For Peace'
Peace talks between Afghan government representatives and Taliban negotiators began last month in the Qatari capital, Doha, but there has been no apparent progress in the negotiations meant to end Afghanistan's decades-long long war. “Attacks have been on the rise in recent weeks - threatening the peace process and alarming the Afghan people and their regional and international supporters,” Khalilzad tweeted on October 15 .
The secretary-general of NATO, which is leading a mission to train, advise, and assist Afghan forces, said the Doha talks "offer the best chance for peace, but Taliban must keep their promises and reduce the unacceptable level of violence."
Jens Stoltenberg made the remarks on Twitter after discussing the situation in Afghanistan with Khalilzad.
This week in Helmand, the U.S. military took part in air strikes to support Afghan forces defending the provincial capital, Lashkar Gah, from a Taliban assault. Mohammad Ramin, head of the province's refugee office, told RFE/RL on October 16 that an estimated 8,000 families have left their homes and taken refuge in the city since heavy clashes erupted in the area on October 11.
United Nations agencies say the heavy fighting has taken out electricity and telecommunication lines in Lashkar Gah, interrupted critical health services, and blocked all exit routes.
Doctors Without Borders (MSF) in Afghanistan reported on October 15 that the main trauma hospital for war-wounded in the provincial capital remains "under pressure." The nearby Boost provincial hospital, which is supported by the Geneva-based charity, received 52 war-wounded patients between October 11 and 14, according to hospital coordinator Mariana Cortesi.
The United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) and human rights groups have called on both sides to protect civilians and give civilians safe passage for those wishing to leave.
According to the UNAMA, civilian populations continue to bear the brunt of Afghanistan's war with at least 1,282 deaths in the first six months of the year.
On October 16 in the central province of Ghor, officials said a pregnant woman was among six civilians killed when their vehicle was hit by a roadside bomb.
Provincial police chief Wahidullah Nezami told RFE/RL that villagers were taking the woman to hospital when the blast occurred west of the provincial capital, Firozkoh.