There actually is quiet somewhere in Afghanistan. People attend a painting exhibition in the capital Kabul on Thursday. (Xinhua/Chen Xin via Getty Images)

Taliban Intensify Attacks on Afghan Security Forces

Violence surges after Ghani rejects prisoner swap

[Islamabad] The Taliban have carried out dozens of attacks on the Afghan security forces since Monday, as an agreed-upon “reduction in violence” unraveled.

The US and the Taliban signed a conditional peace agreement in Doha, Qatar, on February 29. Intra-Afghan negotiations are scheduled to begin in Oslo on March 10.

Alamzeb Wardak, a senior intelligence official based in the northern Kunduz Province, told The Media Line that “at least 15 security personnel were killed when Taliban fighters attacked two checkpoints on a highway” in the province.

Abul Mannan, a police officer in the southern Helmand Province, told The Media Line that “the Taliban killed two Afghan Army soldiers in the Washer area. Also, more than six soldiers were critically wounded in the incident.”

Taliban snipers also killed four security officials in Helmand’s Sangin district, local sources told The Media Line.

Col. Sonny Leggett, a US forces spokesperson, said in a tweet: “On March 3rd alone, the Taliban conducted 43 attacks on Afghan security forces in Helmand.”

Salem Jan, an Afghan official from Tarinkot city in Uruzgan Province, in the center of the country, told The Media Line that at least six policemen were killed when Taliban fighters stormed a check post in the city’s north.

And, according to the Afghan Interior Ministry, security forces repelled a Taliban attack in Qulbras village, Kunduz Province, and killed three Taliban gunmen.

The US Air Force conducted a strike on Wednesday against Taliban fighters attacking an Afghan National Security Forces checkpoint in Helmand. Leggett said: “This was a defensive strike to disrupt the attack. This was our 1st strike against the Taliban in 11 days…. As we have demonstrated, we will defend our partners when required.”

Leggett called on the Taliban to stop “needless attacks” and uphold its commitments.

Zamir Kabulov, the Russian presidential special envoy for Afghanistan, strongly condemned the US airstrike, calling it a gross violation of the conditional peace deal.

“The Taliban did not undertake any obligations toward the Afghan government, but only to the United States, and they have not violated them so far. They [the US] violated the agreement blatantly,” the Russian diplomat said in a statement.

Zabiullah Mujahid, the Taliban’s chief spokesperson, told The Media Line: “Our fighters will not attack the US-led forces, but Afghan security forces will not be spared.” He added, however: “We [the Taliban] will not take part in intra-Afghan talks until our 5,000 prisoners are released in accordance with a peace deal signed with the US.”

The deal requires the Afghan government to release 5,000 Taliban prisoners by the start of the Oslo talks, in a swap for 1,000 government soldiers held by the Islamists. On Sunday, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani said the prisoner exchange would need to be discussed in the intra-Afghan negotiations.

Suhail Shaheen, a Taliban political spokesperson based in Doha, told The Media Line that the “Taliban are committed to implementing all the provisions of the peace agreements and we are acting step by step.” He further said that “to prevent further violence, the Afghan government should remove its self-created barriers so we can proceed further.”

Meanwhile, Javed Faisal, spokesperson for the Afghan president’s national security adviser, said in a statement that “the Afghan government will raise the prisoner release issue in the intra-Afghan talks, as part of a proposed package including the Taliban’s relations with Pakistan, the Taliban’s involvement in drug smuggling, and the terms of a cease-fire.”

Meanwhile, Zalmay Khalilzad, the US special envoy, tweeted on Thursday that the “US is committed to facilitating prisoner exchange, agreed in both US-Taliban Agreement & US-Afghanistan Joint Declaration. We will support each side to release significant numbers.”

He further said: “We must act on all fronts to clear the road of obstacles that slow our progress toward intra-Afghan negotiations….  Increasing violence is a threat to the peace agreement and must be reduced immediately.”

Addressing a public rally in Nangarhar province this week, Ghani said that “the Taliban cannot justify their fresh attacks after signing a peace deal with the US.”

Hidayat Ullah Amrkhel, a Kabul-based political analyst and former diplomat, told The Media Line that “once the deal was signed, Ashraf Ghani and his team must act wholeheartedly for its implementation, but unfortunately, they are misleading the nation and now they will be held responsible for more bloodshed in the country.”

Amrkhel added: “Ashraf is trying to bargain with the US to seek protection for his next term as president, and with that aim, he is now raising questions about the release of Taliban prisoners so he can obtain something to his benefit before the intra-Afghan dialogue begins.”

Adil Farouqe, an Islamabad-based defense analyst and former NATO-International Security Assistance Force coordinator, told The Media Line: “Indeed, it is an embarrassing situation for Ashraf Ghani that, although he’s president of the country, he was not a part the US-Taliban peace deal, which proved the Taliban’s assertion that Ghani is a US puppet.”

Farouqe said that “2020 will be a year of tactical civil war in Afghanistan. The result of this war will decide the fate of the ruler in post-US-withdrawal Kabul, and the Afghan Taliban are experts in this kind of warfare.

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