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Taliban Threatens to Begin Spring Attacks on Friday

FILE - A member of the Taliban insurgent and other people stand at the site during the execution of three men in Ghazni Province, Afghanistan, April 18, 2015.

Afghanistan’s Taliban said it will unleash its “spring offensive” this Friday to intensify attacks on embassies and government facilities as well as military targets around the country. But Afghan defense ministry officials are dismissing the announcement as Taliban propaganda, saying security forces are prepared to deal with any threat.

The Taliban has been waging an insurgency since it was removed from power in 2001 by Afghan and U.S.-led international forces. The insurgent group increases attacks around Afghanistan in the spring, after the snow melt, when fighters and weapons can move in the mountainous country along the porous border with Pakistan.

In an announcement released to the media, including VOA, the Taliban said this year’s spring offensive has been dubbed “Azm” or “Resolution” and will begin Friday.

The name resembles the NATO-led two-year Resolute Support operation that was launched in January to train and advise Afghan security forces after most foreign combat troops withdrew from Afghanistan last year.

President Ashraf Ghani has been making efforts with the support of neighboring countries, including Pakistan, to open a peace dialogue with the Taliban. In recent weeks his efforts generated hopes for a peaceful end to the Afghan conflict.

The Taliban, however, made no mention of a peace process. Its spokesman, Zabihullah Mujahid, reiterated to VOA that no talks are possible unless foreign forces completely withdraw from Afghanistan and a “sovereign government” is installed in Kabul that is “free of foreign influence.”

Ghani has also been consulting members of the so-called High Peace Council his predecessor had set up to promote peace with the Taliban. Council senior member Mohammad Ismael Qasimyar responded to the Taliban announcement by urging the militants not to indulge in further bloodshed of their country men and women.

“You know killing, and war and fighting is not the answer, and later or soon, which we hope the sooner the better, the political solution will be the way out," he said. "We continue to say that peace is better. ”

Qasimyar acknowledged cooperation between Afghanistan and Pakistan has improved in recent months to promote peace in his country.

“I am sure if Pakistan is using its influence and closeness with the Taliban that would be effective and that would bear, I am sure, fruit as far as the starting peace talks are concerned," he said. "We see signs of better understanding of the situation.”

The United Nations and independent observers have warned that 2015 is likely to be the bloodiest year in Afghanistan with Afghan forces bracing to fight without direct foreign air and ground support.

The head of the U.N. Assistance Mission in Afghanistan, Nicolas Haysom, earlier this week in Kabul urged the parties in the Afghan conflict to ensure protection of civilians.

“We have stressed that reckless killing of innocent human beings is probably a war crime, or possible a war crime and possibly a crime against humanity," he said. "And we are certainly demanding that there will be accountability even sometime in the future for those who recklessly cause the deaths of innocent civilians.”

UNAMA declared the previous year the bloodiest in the Afghan conflict since it began documenting civilian casualties in 2009. It said there were more than 10,000 deaths and injuries among Afghan civilians in 2014, more than 70 percent caused by Taliban attacks.

Afghan security forces also lost around 5,000 personnel in the previous fighting season. UNAMA said the conflict has already killed nearly 700 civilians in the first three months of 2015 with an eight percent rise in casualties from ground engagements.