Amid talks with U.S., Taliban declares start of spring offensive

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

"If executed, it will only yield more suffering and thousands of more casualties", he said, adding that "a call for fighting suggests the Taliban are stuck in the ways of the past".

Nangarhar: At least 27 Taliban fighters were killed in an encounter with Afghan security forces in Shirzad district in Afghanistan's Nangarhar province on Friday evening, reports Tolo news.

Afghan security forces have killed a total of 128 members of the Taliban movement and wounded 40 more in the north, northeast and east of the country, the Afghan Defense Ministry, Interior Ministry and the National Directorate of Security said on Sunday.

In Ghor province in the west, at least seven Afghan security forces were killed in a Taliban ambush, Ghor provincial governor spokesman Abdul Hai Khatibi told AFP.

The Taliban ruled some three-quarters of Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001, before being ousted in a US-led invasion.

Taliban fighters attacked the outskirts of a northern Afghan city and bomb blasts were reported in the capital, Kabul, a day after the Taliban launched their annual spring offensive.

It is expected that the Taliban, politicians and representatives of the Afghan government will be in Doha from April 19 to 21, in what would be the first meeting between representatives of the government and the insurgents since the United States and the Taliban began peace talks previous year.

The statement says that by announcing offensives, the Taliban has often targeted "innocent people in Afghanistan" while they have been dictated by "strangers" and that they have used civilian houses as a shield.

However, after repeated rounds of negotiations between USA and Taleban representatives over recent months, the new offensive underlined how far Afghanistan remains from peace more than 17 years after US-backed forces drove the Taleban from power in 2001.

"We are committed to the ongoing process of negotiation and peaceful resolution, but we can not be unmoved in the face of military operations and the terrorist wave of occupiers and mercenaries", Khalilzad said.

The Taliban effectively controls almost half of Afghanistan and has continued to launch frequent attacks on security forces despite holding several rounds of peace talks with the United States in recent months after almost 18 years of war.

"They engaged Afghan security forces to show their presence with the start of their spring offensive", one senior official said.

The spring offensive traditionally marks the start of the so-called fighting season, though fighting nowadays continues unabated throughout the year.

"Taliban peace interlocutors" names have been removed from the UN Security Council black list for nine months, the group's spokesman claimed on Friday.

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