Taliban militants killed in encounter with security forces

Fighters with Afghanistan's Taliban militia stand with their weapons in Ahmad Aba district in 2017

Enlarge Image Fighters with Afghanistan's Taliban militia stand with their weapons in Ahmad Aba district in 2017. Getty Images

Zalmay Khalilzad, the US Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation, said the announcement is "reckless" and reflects the Taliban's "indifference" to the demands of Afghans for peace.

Friday's announcement instructs the Taliban mujahideen, or holy warriors, to "launch jihadi operations with sincerity and pure intentions", strictly abiding by the Taliban command structure. "The Afghan and world religious scholars have clearly said that the war in Afghanistan has no religious legitimacy and its continuance has no legitimate judgment".

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani wants to send a delegation to "exchange views" with the Taliban, but even the process of picking delegates has become bogged down with squabbling and delays.

He said the call for more fighting will not advance peace efforts and that "if executed, it will only yield more suffering and thousands more causalities".

The Taliban effectively controls almost half of Afghanistan and has continued to launch frequent attacks on security forces despite holding several rounds of peace talks with the United States in recent months after almost 18 years of war.

At least 27 militants have been confirmed dead and more than two dozen others injured, the statement said.

Friday's announcement was largely symbolic in character, as the insurgents have been carrying out daily attacks throughout the winter on Afghan security forces and North Atlantic Treaty Organisation troops. "We assemble the Resolute Support leadership together and Gen. Miller said the Taliban have made it clear that they have ignored the will of the people and have guaranteed more violence", Butler said.

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The violence came hours after the Taliban announced the start of Operation Fath, the name the militants have given to this year's spring offensive.

Friday's clashes took place days before the expected resumption of talks between U.S. peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad and Taleban officials in Doha.

A Taleban statement said the objective of the Al-Fath ("Victory") offensive was "eradicating occupation, cleansing our Muslim homeland from invasion and corruption, establishing an Islamic system along with defending and serving our believing fellow countrymen".

He added that some members of the group "including fighters and some leaders oppose this announcement".

In Kunduz, the strategic city which briefly fell to the Taliban in 2015, fighters attacked from several directions in the early hours of the morning, causing heavy casualties, the provincial governor's spokesman Enhamuddin Rahmani said.

The National Security Council said in a statement that the plan, named Khalid Security Plan, is aimed at boosting security across the country particularly the security of urban areas and highways.

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