Afghanisan: Taliban claim attack as spring offensive begins

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo testifies before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington Wednesday April 10. — AP

In Kabul, the Afghan High Peace Council, a government body created years ago to talk peace with anti-government forces, condemned the Taliban announcement, saying it brought into question the insurgents' sincerity in seeking a peaceful end to the war.

Heavy fighting has been going on for weeks but the announcement of the spring offensive while peace talks were due was a blow to any hopes of a quick agreement and was criticized as "reckless" by USA special peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad.

Talks between the United States and Taliban have been making progress, and a deal is starting to come together, based around the U.S. withdrawing from Afghanistan and the Taliban promising to keep ISIS and al-Qaeda out of the country in the future.

Wounded Afghan men receive treatment at a hospital one day after the start of the Taliban spring offensive, in Kunduz province, Afghanistan April 13, 2019.

"The continuation of war is no one's interest", the palace said.

It added that the Taliban and their regional allies are pursuing power through the "imposed war", but the Afghan government will defend every inch of its territory.

The Taliban also called on fighters to avoid civilian deaths in their attacks.

No such drawdown has happened yet and the U.S. still has about 14,000 troops in the country, almost 18 years after the US-led invasion to topple the Taliban. "If executed, it will only yield more suffering and thousands more causalities", the USA envoy said.

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"The Taliban made an announcement this morning that they choose violence over peace".

The deadly attack came hours after the Taliban outfit announced launching its annual offensive dubbed "al-Fath" which means "victory" in Arabic language. The US is hoping to seal a draft agreement on counter-terrorism assurances, troop withdrawal, intra-Afghan dialogue, and a comprehensive ceasefire, before Afghan voters go to the polls in July.

"We are committed to the ongoing negotiations process and a peaceful resolution but can not remain indifferent to the military operations and ongoing crimes of the invaders [U.S. -led alliance] and their internal supporters", Mujahid said in a statement sent to media.

"Our jihadi obligation has not yet ended", the Taliban said.

Qais Mangal, a spokesman for the Afghan Ministry of Defence, dismissed the Taliban's spring offensive as "mere propaganda".

According to US estimates, government forces control just over half the country, but with many areas out of reach of easy communications an accurate picture is hard.

The National Security Council said in a statement that the plan, named Khalid Security Plan, is aimed at boosting security across the country particularly the security of urban areas and highways.

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