KABUL   -   Afghan forces backed by US forces killed two senior Taliban leaders and at least 38 fighters of the insurgent group in joint air strikes conducted in northern and western regions of Afghanistan, officials said on Sunday.

The operations, launched on Saturday night, were aimed at foiling attacks planned by the Taliban on Afghan forces , said a senior security official in capital Kabul, adding that clashes have escalated following the collapse of diplomatic talks between the US and the Taliban.

The defence ministry in a statement said that the Taliban’s designate governor for northern Samangan province, Mawlavi Nooruddin, was killed along with four fighters in an air strike in Dara-e-Soof Payeen district.

But the Taliban denied the governor had been killed. “He (Nooruddin) is alive,” Zabihullah Mujahid, a Taliban spokesman, said in a statement.

In a separate incident, Mullah Sayed Azim, a Taliban designate governor for Anar Dara district in western Farah was killed in a joint Afghan and foreign force raid. “Sayed Azim was killed along with 34 other insurgents in Anar Dara,” said Mohibullah Mohib, a spokesman for Farah provincial police.

Senior security officials in Kabul said several joint operations will be launched against Taliban and Islamic State fighters to prevent attacks on Afghan forces and civilians ahead of the presidential polls on Sept. 28.

Fighting picked up in several parts of Afghanistan last week after US President Donald Trump’s abrupt cancellation of talks with the Taliban aimed at withdrawing US troops and opening the way to end to 18 year-long war in Afghanistan.

Meanwhile, the Taliban on Sunday revoked their ban on the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in Afghanistan and gave a guarantee of security for its staff doing humanitarian work in areas under their control.

Taliban leaders imposed a ban on the ICRC and the World Health Organisation (WHO) in April saying the organisations were carrying out “suspicious” activities during vaccinations campaigns and not sticking to their declared missions.

“The Islamic Emirate restores the former security guarantees to ICRC in Afghanistan and instructs all mujahideen to pave the way for ICRC activities and be mindful of security to this committee’s workers and equipment,” Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid in a statement.

The Taliban refer to themselves as the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan. The spokesman did not refer to the WHO in his statement.

Officials at ICRC and WHO in Kabul were not immediately available for comment.

The WHO has been carrying out a vaccination campaign in Afghanistan, one of the last countries in the world where polio is endemic. The ICRC has been providing medical support for more than 30 years.

Aid groups operating in Afghanistan stress that they do not take sides.

The ICRC in particular is known for its strict neutrality in conflicts.

It operates in Taliban-controlled areas with a guarantee of safety and helps to repatriate bodies from both sides after fighting between the militants and the Afghan army.

The Taliban control or contest more than half of Afghanistan’s 410 districts.