Simmering divisions between rival Islamist groups erupted into open warfare in northern Afghanistan this weekend as Taliban forces battled fighters from one of their main allies, Afghan officials said Sunday.
With their leader pursuing tentative peace talks with the Afghan government, more than 100 Hezb-i-Islami militants fighting the Taliban put down their weapons and surrendered to Afghan government forces, said officials in Baghlan province, where the battles broke out.
While the Taliban sought to downplay the fighting and a Hezb-i-Islami spokesman said that his group and the Taliban must fight “the same occupiers,” Afghan government and American military officials expressed hope that the battles might signal a split in the insurgency.
“Hezb-i-Islami are willing to talk, and they are much closer than the Taliban,” said Malway Abdul Haq Mazhari, a lawmaker from Baghlan province.
Hezb-i-Islami is led by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, a veteran militant who received American support when he fought the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980s, then allied himself with the Taliban, and is now exploring a truce with the Afghan government.