–Pompeo says Afghan Taliban control ‘significant resources’ in Afghanistan so it’s necessary to hold peace talks
KABUL: The Taliban on Friday announced their annual spring offensive, which comes as the United States and Afghan politicians try to negotiate for a peace settlement with the militants.
Operation Fath — which means “victory” in Arabic — will be conducted across Afghanistan with the aim of “eradicating occupation” and “cleansing our Muslim homeland from invasion and corruption”, the Taliban said in a statement.
The annual spring offensive traditionally marks the start of the so-called fighting season, though the announcement is largely symbolic as in recent winters the Taliban have continued fighting Afghan and US forces.
“Our Jihadi obligation has not yet ended,” the Taliban said.
“Even as large parts of our homeland have been freed from the enemy, yet the foreign occupying forces continue exercising military and political influence in our Islamic country.”
Qais Mangal, a spokesman for the Afghan Ministry of Defence, said the Taliban’s spring offensive is “mere propaganda.”
“The Taliban will not reach their vicious goals and their operations will be defeated like previous years,” Mangal said. After suffering horrific bloodshed in 2018, Kabul has in recent weeks enjoyed something of a lull in violence. But on Monday three US Marines were killed in a Taliban attack at Bagram air base north of the city, and authorities in the capital are on high alert.
The administration of President Ashraf Ghani recently declared its own spring offensive, Operation Khalid, and the Taliban used that announcement as a justification for launching a new push. It shows “the enemy still seeks to attain its malicious objectives through the use of force”, the Taliban said.
Meanwhile, US State Secretary Mike Pompeo told lawmakers that Afghan Taliban controlled ‘significant resources’ in Afghanistan so it was necessary to hold talks with the militant outfit.
“With respect to why we are talking to the Taliban, they control a significant amount of resources. And to get the reconciliation we need, to take down the violence level, the Taliban are going to have a say,” Secretary Pompeo was reported as saying.
The US has held several rounds of talks with the Taliban in a bid to bring an end to the war against the insurgents.
Separately, Afghan politicians have met with the Taliban in Moscow, and a fresh round of talks is expected to take place later this month between officials from the Kabul government and the Taliban in the Qatari capital Doha.
The US still has about 14,000 troops in Afghanistan, nearly 18 years after the US-led invasion to topple the Taliban. While Western forces quickly ousted the group, the insurgents have reclaimed much of Afghanistan over the years, primarily in rural areas.
In 2018 a record 10,993 civilians were wounded or killed in Afghanistan, according to UN figures. US President Donald Trump last year decided to slash the number of American soldiers in Afghanistan, though no such drawdown has happened yet.