The Taliban militant group has conducted more than 4,500 attacks in Afghanistan, marking a sharp rise in violence only in the 45 days since it signed a deal with the United States that paves the way for American troops to wind down their presence in the war-ravaged country, a report says.
In a report on Friday, Reuters said that it had seen two sets of data, one from a Western military source and the other from an independent body, revealing that the attacks by Taliban militants had increased by over 70 percent from March 1 to mid-April compared with the same period last year.
Furthermore, official data from the Afghan government shows that more than 900 Afghan local and national forces have been killed during the aforementioned period, up from around 520 during the same period in 2019.
According to the report, the militant group's casualties fell to 610 in the period, down from almost 1,660 last year, as American and Afghan forces have decreased the number of attacks and airstrikes against the militants following the Washington-Taliban peace accord.
The report cited unnamed senior Western, Afghan and independent officials tracking the situation on the ground as saying that the escalation in attacks reveals Taliban's willful disregard of a pledge to decrease violence committed as part of the deal inked in late February.
The Taliban-instigated violence in Afghanistan has coincided with the rapid spread of the COVID-19 disease in the war-ravaged country.
Official figures by Afghanistan's Health Ministry shows that as of Friday, 2,335 individuals have tested positive for the contagious disease, and 68 others lost their lives in the South Asian country. However, international observers believe the figures could be much higher, given the lack of testing.
Citing its unnamed sources, the Reuters report said that the four provinces that have reported the highest number of cases are exactly the ones hit hardest by the violence inflicted by Taliban during the recent weeks.
Taliban militants “are not hitting large government centers or cities, they are focusing on villages in Herat, Kabul, Kandahar and Balkh provinces that have reported the highest number of coronavirus cases,” the report quoted an unnamed senior Western security official as saying.
Taliban has been slowly eroding government control of rural areas and laying siege on cities during the pandemic, a move that eventually could derail the peace accord, the report cited Western security officials, diplomats and international observers.
“They are slowly encircling all of Afghanistan’s major cities. So it’s either a matter of time before they get a deal satisfactory to them or they put those major cities under siege,” said Jonathan Schroden, an expert with the Center for Naval Analyses who has provided assessments on the security situation in Afghanistan to the US military and Congress.
However, two Taliban spokesmen said the group was not responsible for most of the attacks in recent weeks. They accused Washington of jeopardizing the peace accord by backing Afghan security forces and not releasing 5,000 members of the group as part of a prisoner swap stipulated under the peace deal.
The Taliban have demanded the release of the detainees before they engage in a peace process with Kabul. Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has rejected that demand, ordering a phased release of 1,500 militant prisoners instead.
Last month, some 300 militants were released. And the Taliban have turned 20 government prisoners over to the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in Kandahar.
The militant group claims that its attacks during the aforementioned period fell 54.7 percent compared with last year to 537. Furthermore, it claims that the attacks were not "as intense" compared with last year, saying that the number of Afghan security forces killed fell 54.2 percent to 935, while that of the wounded fell 55.9 percent to 742.
Separately, Afghanistan's Defense Ministry said army soldiers were in “active defense mode” and using the air force to stop the militant group's advances.
Washington is compelled under the deal to pull out American forces and foreign troops from Afghanistan by July next year, provided that the militants start talks with Kabul and adhere to other security guarantees.
About 14,000 US troops and approximately 17,000 troops from NATO allies and partner countries remain stationed in Afghanistan years after the invasion of the country that toppled a Taliban regime in 2001.
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