Taliban kill 15 more Afghan forces as U.S. eyes major withdrawal

/ CBS/AP

Kabul, Afghanistan — An Afghan official said Tuesday that the Taliban launched two blistering attacks in northern Sar-e-Pul province, killing 15 members of the country's security forces. In one attack, on the outskirts of the provincial capital, heavy artillery fire by Afghan forces trying to repel the insurgents sent local residents fleeing for safety.

Provincial council chief Mohammad Noor Rahmani said along with 15 policemen killed, 21 were wounded in the two attacks which took place late on Monday. He said fierce gun battles raged for several hours in Sayyad district and outside Sar-e-Pul, the provincial capital.

Taliban spokesman Qari Yousof Ahmadi claimed responsibility for both attacks.

The Taliban have carried out near-daily attacks targeting Afghan forces, as U.S. policy in Afghanistan appears headed for a significant change. While the U.S. pushes for a negotiated truce between the Afghan government and the Taliban, President Trump has indicated he will halve the number of American forces in the country.

Dozens killed in militant siege in Kabul, Afghanistan

CBS News correspondent David Martin reported before Christmas that the Pentagon was ordered to start planning the withdrawal of roughly 7,000 troops from the war-torn country, almost half of which remains under Taliban control.

The former top U.S. commander in Afghanistan said Sunday that withdrawing so many of the U.S. forces from the country would reduce the incentive for the Taliban to negotiate a peace deal after more than 17 years of war. Retired Gen. Stanley McChrystal said the U.S. had, "basically traded away the biggest leverage point we have."

McChrystal spoke in response to questions about former Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, who mentioned Mr. Trump's withdrawal order in his resignation letter. Mattis' last day in the administration was Monday — earlier than he initially announced, after Mr. Trump moved up his departure date.

The U.S. and NATO formally concluded their combat mission in 2014, but American and allied troops remain, conducting strikes on the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) affiliate there and the Taliban, and working to train and build the Afghan military.

Trump forces Mattis out earlier than planned

"If you tell the Taliban that we are absolutely leaving on date certain, cutting down, weakening ourselves, their incentives to try to cut a deal drop dramatically," McChrystal said on ABC's "This Week."

McChrystal also said he was worried that the Afghan people would lose confidence in the U.S. as a reliable ally.

"I think we probably rocked them," said McChrystal, who commanded U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan for about a year.

First published on January 1, 2019

© 2019 CBS Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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