According to data released by security officials in Afghanistan, more Afghan soldiers were killed and injured in the past week than during any other week in the past two decades of the conflict. The dramatic increase in casualties has occurred notwithstanding ongoing efforts to make progress in peace talks.
Although violence dropped across much of Afghanistan following the Taliban’s announcement of a three-day ceasefire on 24 May to respect the Muslim Eid al-Fitr celebration, officials have accused the group of stepping up attacks over the last couple of weeks in the lead up to peace talks due to take place in Doha, Qatar.
In a statement on Monday 22 June the National Security Council said that the past week was the deadliest in the 19 years of war, with 291 members of Afghanistan’s armed forces killed in Taliban attacks in 32 provinces.
According to the statement, Taliban militants carried out 422 separate attacks in the last week. In addition to the 291 security and defence force personnel who were killed, another 550 were injured in militant attacks, and at least 148 civilians were killed and wounded.
According to NSC Spokesman Javid Faisal, 42 civilians, including women and children, were killed and 105 others were wounded in the violence Taliban committed across 18 provinces.
The NSC statement accused the Taliban of increasing its armed attacks in violation of a promise to reduce violence and work towards peace, and despite the commitment and goodwill of Afghan government to establish conditions favourable to ongoing negotiations.
The NSC added that the ongoing violence is unacceptable for the government of Afghanistan and once again insisted on the Taliban taking meaningful steps to demonstrate their willpower to achieve peace. It added that peace will be prevented by continual delays and challenges if there is no reduction of violence.
Interior ministry spokesman Tariq Arian had also reported a major increase in attacks the week before, accusing the Taliban of carrying out 222 attacks against the Afghan security forces resulting in the death and injury of 422 personnel. National Security Council spokesman Javid Faisal said the Taliban had also killed 89 civilians and wounded 150 during the first two weeks of May.
In addition to the increase in generalised violence and attacks against security forces and civilians, Arian accused the Taliban of deliberately targeting religious scholars in a bid to put additional “psychological pressure” on the Afghan government, following bomb attacks on Kabul mosques earlier this month.
“This has been the goal of the Taliban to target religious scholars, especially in the past two weeks,” he said, accusing the armed fighters of being an “umbrella group for other terrorist networks”.
Four people, including a prayer leader, were killed when a blast ripped through a mosque in Kabul during weekly Friday prayers, a week after a separate attack attributed to ISIS against a mosque on the edge of Kabul’s heavily fortified Green Zone killed a prominent prayer leader.
However, the Taliban denied responsibility for the mosque attacks and also condemned them.
Meanwhile, international efforts have been stepped up to convince the Taliban to reduce their attacks as the country is nearing a crucial stage of the planned peace dialogue between the Taliban and the Afghanistan government., which are expected to commence the preliminary stages of intra-Afghan talks in Qatar in the coming weeks. The scheduled talks, which have been delayed several times by disagreements over the release of prisoners, would be the first direct high level meeting between the two sides.
As part of the international efforts, the UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy and head of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), met the head of the Taliban’s political office in Qatar.
The UNAMA stated that Deborah Lyons met with Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar on Sunday (21 June) to emphasize the urgency of seeking a “just and inclusive” peace in Afghanistan. Suhail Shahin, Spokesman for Taliban’s Political Office, said that the meeting discussed prisoner exchange between government of Afghanistan and Taliban as well as the intra-Afghan negotiations. LINK
The NATO Senior Civilian Representative in Afghanistan, Stefano Pontecorvo, has also urged the Taliban to act seriously on the peace process for a political settlement and to an end to the Afghan conflict. In a virtual meeting, Pontecorvo talked on the range of issues related to the Afghan peace process, including the preparations for the intra-Afghan negotiations.
Pontecorvo stated: “I welcome the government’s commitment to peace. Now the Taliban have to show they’re serious about peace too, cease violence and focus on the political settlement of the conflict.”
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