KABUL, Afghanistan – The Afghan government on Monday condemned the recent Talibanannouncement of the start of their annual "spring offensive,"calling it cowardly and un-Islamic and pledging the country'sforces would thwart any attacks. The offensive begins every year as snows melt and the weather warmsacross Afghanistan, making both travel and fighting easier. Itnormally leads to a surge of militant attacks throughout thecountry as the Taliban attempt to retake lost territory andintimidate the government. Meanwhile, the U.S. |
Embassy in Kabul acknowledged a two-year,rarely used program to release detainees from a military prison runby the American military near the capital, saying it was meant tobolster reconciliation between the Afghan government and theTaliban. The Taliban announcement last week was another sign of thedifficulty of reconciling with a group that has been fighting theU.S.-led coalition and Afghan forces for more than a decade. TheTaliban said they would target anyone — from governmentworkers to tribal leaders — who works against them and helpsforeigners in their "occupation" of Afghanistan. On Monday, the Interior Ministry said that "while again declaringwar against the Afghan people, their government and constitution,the Taliban insurgents also abuse their religious values in thename of a cause opposed to the basic Islamic principles of peace,education and kindness." The ministry statement said the Taliban use propaganda and "twistholy religious values to justify their criminal activities," whichhave killed thousands of innocent people. Last year was the deadliest on record for civilians in the Afghanwar, with 3,021 killed, according to the United Nations.Taliban-affiliated militants were responsible for more thanthree-quarters of those deaths.
The Taliban have launched several large-scale attacks in recentweeks, including coordinated attacks on Kabul and three othercities that left 47 people dead, including 36 insurgents, and astrike on a compound used by foreigners in the Afghan capital thatkilled seven. The uptick in violence comes as NATO gears up to hand over securityto local forces ahead of a 2014 deadline for the withdrawal offoreign combat troops. Some have questioned if local forces will beup to the task. The U.S.-led coalition has also started its own campaign aimed atinsurgents and is thought to have launched a number of operationsin the eastern part of Afghanistan near the Pakistani border.
Theoperations, in provinces such as Ghazni, are also aimed at chockingthe insurgents' ability to reach Kabul. On Monday, a bomb killed three NATO service members in the east,the coalition said. It did not provide details about the attack northe nationality of those killed. NATO usually waits for membernations to provide details about troop deaths.
So far this year,142 coalition members have died in Afghanistan. The Washington Post reported Monday that the U.S. military has beensecretly releasing high-level detainees from the Parwan detentioncenter near Kabul to help with the reconciliation process. Manyhigh-level Taliban detainees are held at the facility, which is runby the U.S. military but will be handed over to the Afghans withinsix months under a recently signed agreement.
U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker told the newspaper that many times theUnited States had acted on information that "might strengthen thereconciliation process." "Ambassador Crocker was referencing a two-year old, rarely usedprogram in which senior military officials, together with theirAfghan counterparts, weigh the benefits of releasing certainindividuals who are being detained at the Parwan Detention Facilityand who are willing to denounce violence and engage in the processof reconciliation," U.S. Embassy spokesman Gavin Sundwall told TheAssociated Press. Sundwall said fewer than 20 detainees have ever been released underthe program and that the decision takes into account whether theypose any further security threat. In the latest violence, four gunmen took over a tall building inthe eastern province of Paktika late Sunday and started shootingdown into surrounding government compounds, wounding one civilian.A spokesman for the governor, Mokhlis Afghan, said policesurrounded the building in the provincial capital and killed theattackers after several hours.
NATO and Afghan soldiers providedsupport. Also Monday, the governor of southern Helmand province condemned aNATO airstrike last week that he said killed six civilians —a woman, three girls and two boys. Gulab Mangal said Friday'sstrike was aimed at insurgents attacking NATO and Afghan forces inthe province's Sangin district. He said "a civilian house was alsotargeted by the airstrike unintentionally." Mangal said U.S.-led NATO forces confirmed the recent event andapologized, saying it would help the remaining members of thefamily. In the north, a large roadside bomb killed three people Monday inKunduz province's Imam Sahib district — including ahigh-ranking national border police commander, said AmanullahQurishi, the district chief.
___ Associated Press writers Patrick Quinn and Amir Shah contributed tothis report.
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