Afghan Taliban insurgents killed 17 civilians and wounded 49 during the first week of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, further chipping away at their pledge to reduce violence following a peace deal with the U.S.
The fatalities occurred from April 24, Javid Faisal, a spokesman for the National Security Council of Afghanistan, said on Twitter. Most of the casualties were caused by roadside bombs and direct fire, he added.
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The peace agreement signed in February was meant to pave the way for the withdrawal of U.S. and NATO forces from Afghanistan within 14 months. But while attacks on the U.S.-led coalition have ceased, the Taliban almost immediately began mounting assaults on Afghan rural areas.
Separate data from the National Security Council show that 337 civilians have been killed, 452 wounded and 164 abducted in the two months since the signing. “Taliban have failed to live up to their commitment to remain peaceful. They increased their campaign of terror immediately and harmed 100s of Afghan men, women and children,” Faisal tweeted.
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Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahed disputed the numbers, saying on Twitter that the dead were killed by airstrikes and rocket attacks of “U.S. occupiers” and Afghan forces.
The violence has escalated as the country, with a weak health system, struggles to fight the coronavirus pandemic that has killed 85 Afghans and infected about 2,700 as of May 2, according to the Health Ministry.
The accord between the U.S. and the Taliban is meant to wind down more than 18 years of fighting and America’s longest war. Intra-Afghan peace efforts, though, have stalled amid a power struggle between President Ashraf Ghani and the country’s chief executive, Abdullah Abdullah. Both men claimed victory in last year’s election and held competing swearing-in ceremonies earlier this year.
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The United Nations said in areport that Afghan violence inflicted fewer casualties in the first quarter of this year compared to the same period last year but rose in March after the U.S.-Taliban deal. A total of 1,293 were killed or wounded, down 29%, according to the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan.
The insurgents said last month that they would continue attacking Afghan soldiers until peace talks begin. According to the terms of the accord, negotiations were to have begun by March 10, and only after the Afghan government released up to 5,000 Taliban prisoners in exchange for 1,000 soldiers. But the swaps have stalled, with the government saying it hasn’t received assurances that the freed Taliban won’t return to battle.
The government has so far released 650 militants, most recently on Saturday. The Taliban freed 112 Afghan soldiers and policemen as of May 1. The U.S. has criticized the slow process and warned it could cause more losses.
“Both the Taliban and the government need to accelerate efforts to release prisoners and lower violence, which is the fastest means to intra-Afghan negotiations and a comprehensive permanent ceasefire,” the U.S. special envoy for Afghan reconciliation, Zalmay Khalilzad, said on Twitter on Saturday.
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