Taliban Spring Offensive Draws U.S. Ire Amid Peace Efforts

(Bloomberg) -- The U.S. and Afghan governments condemned the Taliban’s launch of a new spring offensive in Afghanistan as the world’s biggest military power continues to pursue peace talks with militants in the war-torn country.

Calling the Taliban move “reckless,” U.S. Special Envoy on Afghan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad said on Twitter that the insurgents demonstrated their “indifference” to the peace demands of the Afghan people. The U.S. and its allies will stand with Afghan forces to end the country’s 18 years of war, he said, urging Pakistan, Qatar and other nations to join in condemning the latest militant actions.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani described the Taliban offensive as “illegitimate war.” The insurgents explicitly want to prolong the fighting that took the lives of tens of thousands of Afghans, more than 2,400 U.S. soldiers and cost about $900 billion, Ghani said in an e-mailed statement from his office. He reiterated calls on the group to directly join peace talks with the government.

The insurgents that control or contest half the country have increasingly stepped up attacks on government and U.S. compounds, inflicting heavy military and civilian casualties at a time when talks with the U.S. are entering a key phase.

More than 100 Taliban fighters and dozens of Afghan soldiers were killed during a Taliban attack on Badghis province in the past two weeks. And in a separate roadside bombing near a U.S. base last week, three American soldiers were killed. Local forces are now attempting to thwart the group’s raids on many other provinces such as Helmand and Nangarhar.

Draft Agreement

Hostilities have continued despite the U.S. reaching a draft agreement with the Taliban after six months of talks. The draft deal should eventually lead to the withdrawal of U.S. and NATO forces from the country, in exchange for a Taliban pledge not to allow terrorists to use Afghanistan as a base to attack the West or other nations. Khalilzad aims to finalize the agreement before the country’s presidential election slated for September.

As the battles turn deadlier nationwide, Ghani is also intensifying efforts to eventually end the bloodshed. He recently created a top leadership council for reconciliation, whose members include former President Hamid Karzai, top political leaders and former warlords. The board will then create a negotiating team to represent the Afghan government in talks with the Taliban.

National Assembly

Ghani will also send more than 100 elite Afghans to Qatar on April 19 to exchange views on peace with Taliban leaders. After this event, Afghanistan will convene a grand national assembly, or Loya Jirga, of more than 2,000 people from all walks of life to reach a national consensus on peace talks and decide on the future of the country.

“The killing of Afghans must stop,” Khalilzad said on Twitter. “All sides must end unnecessary violence, and instead engage in intra-Afghan dialogue. Afghan people want peace, and the U.S. stands with them.”

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