By Baber Khan Sahel
Kabul, June 22 (efe-epa).- At least 291 Afghan soldiers were killed and 550 injured in various Taliban attacks last week, marking the highest number of casualties suffered by the security forces in a week since the 2001 American invasion of Afghanistan, the government said on Monday.
“The Taliban carried out 422 attacks in 32 (of the 34) provinces, martyring 291 ANDSF (Afghan National Defense and Security Forces) members and wounding 550 others,” National Security Council (NSC) spokesperson Javid Faisal told EFE.
“For this reason, the past week was the deadliest one in 19 years in terms of violence,” the NSC office said in a separate statement.
Moreover, during the last week, 42 civilians were also killed and over 100 wounded in the violence.
The spurt in weekly casualties among the security forces comes at a time when the government and the Taliban look to kick start the intra-Afghan talks, along the lines of a peace agreement between the insurgents and the US.
This will mark the beginning of an end to the 19-year war in Afghanistan.
As per the US-Taliban agreement signed on Feb.29 in the Qatari capital of Doha, Washington would pull troops out of Afghanistan by mid-2021 in exchange for security guarantees from the Taliban.
However, the process was delayed after the Taliban decided to boycott the negotiations for a prisoner swap with the government, a precondition for starting the intra-Afghan talks.
The exchange of 5,000 Taliban prisoners for 1,000 of those from the security forces, originally set to commence on Mar. 10, was offset by a dramatic spike in violence and disagreements between the Afghan government and the insurgents.
Last week, the Afghan government and the Taliban announced that the first peace talks between the two sides will take place in Doha, where the Taliban has its political office, but no specific date was announced.
In this backdrop, the NSC spokesperson termed the Taliban’s commitment to reduce violence as “meaningless” and “inconsistent” with their actions, which would impact the peace process.
“We are surprised. They did not take any step for peace. Instead, they increased the war to a level which has been unprecedented in the past 19 years,” Faisal said.
The NSC said the ongoing violence was not acceptable to the Afghan government, and if it continued, the efforts for bringing peace would face problems and delay.
On the other hand, the insurgents claimed that the casualty figures by the government were exaggerated, describing these reports as attempts to undermine the peace process.
“They are increasing the (number of casualties from) 50 to 500 to create obstacles. These many attacks were not carried out in the past week, as claimed by the enemy,” Taliban spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid told EFE.
Mujahid admitted there had been incidents of violence, but described them as “defensive responds” to attacks by the security forces.
Although violence in Afghanistan continued even after the Doha agreement in February, the goodwill gesture of a cease-fire during the festival of Eid-al-Fitr last month had marked progress towards the holding of the intra-Afghan talks between the government and the Taliban.
Despite a lack of agreement on the prisoner swap process, which has served as the main impediment to the talks, the government has so far released around 3,000 Taliban prisoners in exchange for around 500 of its prisoners being freed from Taliban jails, while negotiations continue. EFE-EPA