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KUNDUZ: At least 15 Afghan border police were killed battling Taliban insurgents on Thursday, an official said, as fighting continues ahead of this month’s elections, with 21 Taliban killed in an operation in Wardak, west of the capital Kabul.

Amruddin Wali, a member of the provincial council in Kunduz in northern Afghanistan, said 15 members of the paramilitary border police were killed when Taliban fighters attacked a checkpoint in Qala-e Zal district.

Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid put the casualty total at 25 and said seven police were wounded.

The latest violence follows increasing pressure by the Taliban on Kunduz, the northern city they twice overran in 2015 and 2016. The city has remained relatively secure over the past two years, but the insurgents control many of the surrounding districts.

Earlier, Afghan special forces, backed by air strikes, killed at least 21 Taliban, including senior commanders, as they gathered to plan attacks aimed at disrupting parliamentary elections on Oct 20, the National Directorate of Security said in a statement.

Rebel Afghan militia leader defies govt

A standoff over a militia commander in central Afghanistan who has defied attempts to arrest him has highlighted tensions over President Ashraf Ghani’s crackdown on local strongmen operating outside central government control.

On Friday, security forces arrived in Lal Sar Jangal, a district in the remote and largely lawless province of Ghor, to arrest Alipur, a commander from the mainly Shia Hazara minority accused of serious human rights abuses.

Their arrival set off a gunbattle that killed four police and eight civilians. Alipur, known as “Commander Sword”, escaped but a few days later reappeared in Wardak province, west of Kabul, holding a defiant rally of hundreds of supporters.

“You rescued me and as long as I have your support, no government can touch me,” Alipur, seen by supporters as a Robin Hood-style figure who defends his people, told a cheering crowd. “I stand beside you and will defend your rights to my last day.” Deputy interior ministry spokesman Nasrat Rahimi called Alipur a “criminal, a highwayman and a killer” and said: “The government will continue to hunt him.” The case has echoes of Nizamuddin Qaisari, an ethnic Uzbek militia commander in northern Faryab province close to Vice President Rashid Dostum, who was also accused of serious abuses. His arrest in July set off violent protests across northern provinces.

Published in Dawn, October 12th, 2018