Taliban militants have ambushed and shot dead three Afghan judges and a court staffer while they were traveling from the southeastern province of Paktia to Kabul, local officials say.
Abdullah Hasrat, a spokesman for the governor in eastern Paktia province, said on Thursday that the attack took place in Mohammad Agha district of neighboring Logar province.
“They were travelling in a car but were stopped by the Taliban checkpoint on the road,” media outlets quoted Hasrat as saying.
The militant group, which has been blamed for previous ambushes on the highway linking Logar province to the Afghan capital, did not confirm it was behind the latest assault.
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said he was not aware of the attack but would check with local commanders.
Taliban insurgents fighting to overthrow the Kabul government have long targeted the judiciary in retaliation for harsh sentences given to their fighters.
As Afghan police casualties mounted, the government this year pulled back from hundreds of checkpoints in isolated areas that acted as a magnet for Taliban attacks.
Many Afghans complain that militant groups have now set up checkpoints along the main highways, searching cars and looking for government employees.
The Taliban militants now control more territory than at any point since the US invasion of the country nearly two decades ago. The United States is desperately trying to end its longest ever war, but peace talks with the Taliban are currently stalled.
In the past year, US Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad held nine rounds of negotiations with the Taliban in Qatar, where the militant group has a political office.
An agreement appeared imminent in early September, but a new wave of violence and the death of a US soldier made US President Donald Trump suddenly call off the talks. The White House also canceled a truce signing ceremony at Camp David of which few had been aware.
The US-Taliban negotiations centered on the US’s withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan.
More than 14,000 US troops remain in Afghanistan and Trump has repeatedly expressed his frustration with their continued deployment. US forces have remained bogged down there through the presidencies of George W. Bush, Barack Obama, and now Trump.