Afghan Taliban leader says committed to deal with the US

The leader of the Taliban said on Wednesday that his group was committed to a landmark deal with the US, despite being accused of carrying out hundreds of attacks in Afghanistan since it was signed in February.

Haibatullah Akhunzada urged Washington “not to waste” the opportunity offered by the deal to end the US’s longest war in a message released ahead of next week’s Eid al-Fitr holiday, which marks the end of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan.

“The Islamic Emirate is committed to the agreement signed with America and urges the other side to honour its own commitments and not allow this critical opportunity to go waste,” Akhunzada said in a statement, using the name the Taliban called Afghanistan when they were in power.

“I urge American officials to not afford anyone the opportunity to obstruct, delay and ultimately derail this internationally recognised bilateral agreement,” the reclusive leader added.

The Doha agreement envisaged talks between Afghan leadership and the Taliban to reach a lasting peace, but that has been delayed as a prisoner swap – a key part of the agreement – has not been fully implemented.

The so-called intra-Afghan talks were also delayed by a leadership feud between President Ashraf Ghani and his rival Abdullah Abdullah. Last week, they signed a power-sharing deal that will move the peace process forward.

US President Donald Trump’s administration has made it a priority to end the war in Afghanistan and, in a bid to facilitate the withdrawal of their forces, US officials have been pushing for intra-Afghan peace talks.

Under the accord, the Taliban pledged to stop attacking US interests, but has continued to target Afghan forces in the provinces.

The Taliban have also stepped up attacks against Afghan forces after President Ghani ordered troops to adopt offensive posture against armed groups following two deadly attacks last week that killed dozens.

Last week, at least 24 people were killed in an attack on a maternity hospital in Kabul and a suicide blast on a funeral on the same day left 32 dead in Nangarhar province.

The Taliban denied involvement in the two attacks, although Ghani blamed the Taliban and the ISIL (ISIS) armed group for the bloodshed.

Rising civilian casualties

At least 20 people have been killed, including eight soldiers, in Taliban attacks in the past week.

Eight soldiers were killed on Tuesday in a Taliban attack in Kunduz, a strategic city in northern Afghanistan that had briefly fallen to the armed group twice in the past, officials said.

Defence Minister Assadullah Khalid, who visited Kunduz later on Tuesday, said the Taliban had “suffered big losses”.

“Unfortunately, we have also lost eight brave soldiers,” he told AFP news agency.

Analysts say the Taliban have been emboldened by the February deal, and Afghan government officials have reported more than 3,800 attacks, which killed 420 civilians and wounded 906, since signing the deal.

The United Nations has warned that the spike in violence has also led to increased casualties among civilians.

The Taliban were responsible for 208 civilian casualties last month – 25 percent more than April 2019 – the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) said in a statement.

It said civilian casualties attributed to Afghan security forces in April numbered 172, an increase of 38 percent.

“Parties have committed to finding a peaceful solution and should protect the lives of all Afghans and not jeopardise people’s hope for an end to the war,” said Deborah Lyons, the UN secretary-general’s special representative for Afghanistan.

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