Afghan official says Taliban attack kills 7 policemen

KABUL, Afghanistan — A Taliban attack on a security outpost early Thursday set off an hours-long gunbattle that killed seven policemen in central Ghazni province, said Arif Noor, the provincial governor's spokesman.

Two policemen were also wounded in the fighting in Waghaz district of Ghazni province, a region heavily controlled by the Taliban, who later claimed responsibility for the attack.

The insurgent group continues its daily onslaught against Afghanistan's security forces even as the militants continue to talk peace with the United States.

The Taliban have agreed to take part in an all-Afghan gathering later this month in Qatar, where the insurgents maintain a political office. The meeting is considered a significant first step toward a settlement between the country's warring sides that could possibly lead to an eventual withdrawal of U.S. troops and an end to Afghanistan's protracted war.

But the Taliban say they will not recognize any government official attending the gathering as a representative of the Kabul government, only as an individual Afghan participant.

The Taliban are coming to the negotiating table from a position of relative strength. The religious movement controls or holds sway in roughly half of the country, according to Washington's own Congress-appointed watchdog on reconstruction.

In northern Samangan province on Thursday, the head of the provincial council Raz Mohammad said the Taliban arrested 60 truck drivers for failing to pay a tax on trucks passing through Taliban-controlled territory. Mohammad said the Taliban charge about 7,000 afghanis (about $90) a month for each truck passing through their area. The trucks haul charcoal from area mines.

Speaking with The Associated Press by phone, a Taliban spokesman said he had no information on the arrest and suggested that local militias who aren't connected to the Taliban could be responsible for the shakedown.

Hashim Bayan, the spokesman for Samangan's provincial police chief, confirmed the arrest of the 60 truckers and said they were picked up near the border with neighboring Balkh province.

In a separate incident, at least 15 policemen surrendered to the Taliban in the northwestern province of Badghis, according to provincial council member Mohammad Naser Nazari.

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