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KABUL, Afghanistan -- In a day of intensifying violence across Afghanistan, the country's security forces bombed a clinic in the northern province of Kunduz on Tuesday in their efforts to thwart another coordinated assault by the Taliban on the provincial capital.

The country's conflict is back into full-fledged bloodletting after a brief period of hope that a deal between the United States and the Taliban in February would open the way for negotiations between the two Afghan sides.

The Taliban have ignored what U.S. officials describe as an understanding that they would reduce violence by up to 80% in the prelude to negotiations over a power-sharing agreement. Fighting was reported in 20 of the country's 34 provinces over the past 24 hours, a senior Afghan official said.

After a series of attacks by the Taliban in recent weeks, President Ashraf Ghani of Afghanistan last week ordered his forces, which had remained on "active defense," to go back on offense.

That change of posture by the government gave the Taliban the excuse to do away with any pretense of restraint and further ramp up attacks, particularly around cities they had largely avoided in recent months.

And with the U.S.-Taliban deal constraining how much support the United States can offer the Afghan government in offensive operations against the militants, the security forces are limited in how much they can do.

Overnight, insurgents attacked the security belt around the city of Kunduz from several directions, assaulting at least 17 outposts and bases of the Afghan forces, said Lt. Col. Mashooq Kohistani, commander of an Afghan army battalion in Kunduz. Kohistani said that all the attacks had been fended off but that fighting was continuing in one suburb of the city.

Asadullah Khalid, Afghanistan's defense minister, traveled to Kunduz for the operations and put Taliban fatalities at more than 50. He said eight members of the Afghan security force had been killed.

Ihsanullah Fazli, provincial director of health in Kunduz, said that the clinic in the district of Chardara had been bombed and that several parts of it, including its ambulances, had been destroyed.

"We have some wounded among our personnel and patients, but we do not have any deaths," Fazli said.

Abdul Wali, a nurse at the clinic who suffered wounds in his legs and arms, said about 50 people had been at the clinic at the time of the bombing.

"The Taliban brought their fighters for treatment, but there were civilians there, too," Wali said. "The doors, the guard rooms, were struck. Our emergency section is destroyed."

Wali and others who were wounded were taken to the main regional hospital in Kunduz, a city that has been overwhelmed by the spread of the coronavirus. Dozens of hospital staff members have been quarantined.

Fawad Aman, a spokesman for the Afghan Defense Ministry, denied that a clinic had been struck.

But internal security communications in Kunduz, viewed by The New York Times, showed that A-29 attack aircraft of the Afghan air force had struck what the messages described as "a center for treatment of wounded Taliban in Chardara district."

A United Nations report blamed the Taliban for killing or injuring a total of 208 civilians last month and also said that operations by Afghan forces in April had killed or injured 172 civilians. Civilians are often caught in the crossfire of the fighting and Afghan forces say they are targeting the insurgents, not civilians, in anti-militant operations.

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Muhahed disputed the U.N. figures in a tweet and blamed "blind airstrikes and artillery fire by U.S. and internal forces" for the casualties.

Also Tuesday, the U.S. State Department said Washington's special peace envoy, Zalmay Khalilzad, began another round of talks with the Taliban to press them to start talking to the newly reconciled Afghan political leadership in Kabul and implement an immediate reduction in violence.

Information for this article was contributed by Mujib Mashal, Najim Rahim and Fahim Abed of The New York Times; and by Kathy Gannon and Rahim Faiez of The Associated Press.

A Section on 05/20/2020

Print Headline: Afghan air force destroys clinic

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