Kabul, June 22 (IANS) At least 291 Afghan soldiers were killed and 550 injured in various Taliban attacks last week, marking the highest number of casualties suffered by the security forces in a week since the country’s 2001 US invasion, the government said on Monday.
“The Taliban carried out 422 attacks in 32 (of the 34) provinces, killing 291 ANDSF (Afghan National Defense and Security Forces) members and wounding 550 others,” National Security Council (NSC) spokesperson Javid Faisal told Efe news.
“For this reason, the past week was the deadliest one in 19 years in terms of violence,” the NSC office said in a separate statement.
During the last week, 42 civilians were also killed and over 100 others injured.
The spurt in weekly casualties among the security forces comes at a time when the government and the Taliban were preparing to kick-start the intra-Afghan talks, along the lines of a peace agreement between the militantss and the US.
This will mark the beginning of an end to the 19-year war in Afghanistan.
As per the US-Taliban agreement signed on February 29 in Doha, Washington would pull troops out of Afghanistan by mid-2021 in exchange for security guarantees from the Taliban.
However, the process was delayed after the Taliban decided to boycott the negotiations for a prisoner swap with the government, a precondition for starting the intra-Afghan talks.
The exchange of 5,000 Taliban prisoners for 1,000 of those from the security forces, originally set to commence on March 10, was offset by a dramatic spike in violence and disagreements between the Afghan government and the insurgents.
Meanwhile, the Taliban has claimed that the casualty figures by the government were exaggerated, describing these reports as attempts to undermine the peace process.
“They are increasing the (number of casualties from) 50 to 500 to create obstacles. These many attacks were not carried out in the past week, as claimed by the enemy,” Taliban spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid told Efe news.
Mujahid admitted there had been incidents of violence, but described them as “defensive responds” to attacks by the security forces.
Despite a lack of agreement on the prisoner swap process, which has served as the main impediment to the talks, the government has so far released around 3,000 Taliban prisoners in exchange for around 500 of its prisoners being freed from Taliban jails, while negotiations continue.