Afghan Taliban leader says committed to deal with US

Kabul (AFP) –


The leader of the Taliban said Wednesday that militants were committed to a landmark deal with the US, despite being accused of carrying out thousands of attacks in Afghanistan since it was signed.

Haibatullah Akhundzada urged Washington "not to waste" the opportunity offered by the deal to end America's longest war in a rare message released ahead of next week's Eid al-Fitr holiday, which marks the end of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan.

"The Islamic Emirate is committed to the agreement... and urges the other side to honour its own commitments and not allow this critical opportunity to go waste," Akhundzada said in a statement, using the name the Taliban called Afghanistan when they were in power.

"I urge American officials to not afford anyone the opportunity to obstruct, delay and ultimately derail this internationally recognised bilateral agreement", the reclusive leader added.

After months of negotiations, the Taliban and US signed a deal on February 29 which stipulates Washington will withdraw all troops by next year in return for security guarantees.

US President Donald Trump's administration has made it a priority to end the war in Afghanistan, and in a bid to pull out foreign forces US officials have been pushing the Taliban and Afghan leaders to hold peace talks.

- Emboldened Taliban -

Under the accord, the Taliban pledged to stop attacking cities and foreign troops, but has continued to target Afghan forces in the provinces.

Analysts say the Taliban have been emboldened by the February deal, and Afghan government officials have reported more than 3,800 attacks, which killed 420 civilians and wounded 906, since signing the deal.

Top US official who brokered the deal with the Taliban has said that the militants have been fulfilling their end of the bargain even if recent violence violates the "spirit" of it.

"The Taliban have implemented their agreement not to attack the coalition forces," Zalmay Khalilzad, US Representative to Afghanistan said last week.

His remarks came after a horrific attack against a maternity hospital in Kabul that left dozens dead, including mothers and infants and a suicide bombing at a funeral.

The Taliban denied any involvement in the attack, although Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has blamed the group and the Islamic State extremists for the bloodshed.

"They've committed not to carry out attacks in 34 major cities, and they haven't done that, based on our assessment," Khalilzad said about the Taliban.

"But we believe that they're in violation of the spirit" of the deal, he said, adding that the hospital attack was carried out by IS.

Following the violence, the government ordered security forces to switch to an "offensive" position against the militants.

The Taliban responded to the order by vowing to increase attacks against Afghan security forces.

The United Nations has warned that the spike in violence since the February deal was signed has led to increased casualties among civilians.