Fighting between Afghan government and Taliban has increased after peace talks failed to progress despite international calls to reduce violence.

Afghan national army (ANA) Soldiers stand guard at a checkpoint on the outskirts of Kabul, Afghanistan, April 17, 2021.
Afghan national army (ANA) Soldiers stand guard at a checkpoint on the outskirts of Kabul, Afghanistan, April 17, 2021. (AP)

A rocket has hit the provincial governor's compound in Afghanistan's eastern Kunar province during a religious ceremony, wounding at least 16 children, local officials said, blaming Taliban insurgents.

Iqbal Sayeed, the governor of Kunar, said a Taliban rocket hit the compound's hall as a holy Koran recitation competition was taking place.

At least 16 children, three Afghan security force members, and religious affairs officials were wounded, Sayeed said, and some children are in critical condition.

The Taliban, fighting to overthrow the foreign-backed Afghan government since they were toppled by US-led troops in late 2001, said they were aware of the incident and investigating.

The Afghan government says since the announcement by US President Joe Biden this month of plans to withdraw American combat troops from Afghanistan by September 11, the Taliban have stepped up attacks on Afghan security forces.

Increased attacks

More than a hundred Afghan civilians and security forces have been killed in fighting in the last 10 days and many more wounded, according to government officials.

A roadside bomb hit an army vehicle in the eastern city of Jalalabad on Monday, wounding six people.

At least 12 Afghan policemen have been killed, including seven who were ambushed by the Taliban south of the capital, officials said, as fighting continued in the violence-wracked country.

The two separate attacks in the provinces of Logar and Kandahar came as the top US military commander in Afghanistan, General Scott Miller, said work had begun to withdraw the remaining American forces.

The policemen were part of a security force guarding copper mines in Logar, south of the capital Kabul.

Police from Logar province confirmed the attack.

In a separate attack on Sunday, a suicide bomber ran an explosives-laden car into a police vehicle in the southern Taliban bastion of Kandahar, killing five policemen.

The attack took place in the restive Maiwand district of Kandahar and left another four policemen wounded, police said.

Fighting continues unabated across several rural provinces.

READ MORE: Turkey, Afghanistan and Pakistan push for Taliban commitment to peace talks

Controversial withdrawal

General Miller, commander of US and NATO forces in Afghanistan, said that work had commenced to hand over the remaining bases to Afghan forces and withdraw the troops from the country.

"As we retrograde to zero US forces, we will turn over the bases primarily to the ministry of defence and other Afghan forces," Miller told reporters in Kabul, without naming the bases.

"All of our forces are now preparing to retrograde. Officially, the notification date will be the first of May. But at the same time, as we start taking local actions, we've already begun that."

Miller said the military would also hand over all equipment that it does need to take back home.

"We're looking to ensure that the Afghan security forces have the bases, pieces of equipment, parts that are necessary for the functioning of the military," he said.

Earlier this month Biden announced that all remaining US forces would be withdrawn by the 20th anniversary of the September 11 attacks, finally ending America's longest war.

The drawdown delays by around five months an agreement with the Taliban by former US President Donald Trump to withdraw all troops.

A decade ago, the United States had about 100,000 troops in Afghanistan. The troop figure by the end of Trump's presidency had dropped to 2,500.

READ MORE: US withdrawal from Afghanistan is a pandora's box

Presence of al Qaeda

The Taliban ruled Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001, when they were ousted by US-led forces. Since then they have waged a long-running insurgency and now control wide swathes of territory.

Security experts in recent weeks said they doubt if the Taliban will allow US forces, whom they call invaders, to peacefully exit the country at a time when clashes between the Afghan forces and the Taliban have not ebbed.

Foreign force withdrawal is slated to begin on May 1, in line with an agreement with the Taliban in 2020.

Miller said the Taliban have committed to breaking their relationship with al Qaeda, the extremist group.

The Taliban government's sheltering of al-Qaeda was the key reason for the US invasion of Afghanistan after the September 2001 attacks.

A United Nations report in January said there were as many as 500 al Qaeda fighters in Afghanistan and that the Taliban maintained a close relationship with them.

The Taliban denies al Qaeda presence in Afghanistan.

READ MORE: NATO, US forces to coordinate for Afghanistan withdrawal

Source: TRTWorld and agencies