Afghan troops split on Taliban peace talks amid spring offensive carnage

Afghan troops split on Taliban peace talks amid spring offensive carnage

After more than a decade of bloody fighting, and just weeks into the Taliban’s annual spring offensive, Afghan soldiers are divided – hit back at the militant group or seriously pursue peace talks.

The Taliban announced its spring offensive late last month, and the militant group’s annual ritual has already become a typically bloody affair.

Afghan officials say the group has launched more than 2,700 attacks in the Al Khandaq campaign – named after one of the Prophet Mohammed’s battles in Medina – in just over three weeks.

The announcement of the fighting season was a dismissal of President Ashraf Ghani’s peace offering in February for talks “without preconditions”. Officials in Washington, who have helped to prop up Mr Ghani’s government, pointed to the new offensive as another example of the Taliban’s insistence on bringing instability to the country.

The Taliban said its primary target would be the “American invaders”, their Afghan backers second. It was more of the same after 17 years of war following the US-led invasion of Afghanistan that ousted the militant group from power.

But the Afghan soldiers waging the battle on the ground against the group are weary and divided. While some said the loss of more Afghan blood was worth the continued fight, others believed the way forward was Mr Ghani’s path of peace.

“[The Afghan government] should have known that the Taliban would never say yes [to peace talks],” Captain Mujahid Amin, a 32 year old Afghan National Army commander, told The National.

“It is a waste of resources, in my opinion. The only way [to get the Taliban under control] is to launch an offensive against them. We have to force them to respond positively,” added the soldier who has been fighting the Taliban for most of his adult life, losing many friends and colleagues in the process.

Yet successive military operations against the group and its fighters have not yielded a resolution to the years-long insurgency. In the 19 days since the Taliban announced its spring offensive, it has conducted several attacks in Kabul that the government blamed on the guerrilla group affiliated to the so-called Haqqani Network. It also overran the western city of Farah, killing 30 people before abandoning it amid clashes with Afghan security forces.

Others see advantages in dialogue and believe that the government in Kabul should be doing more to reduce support for the group that wants to impose its ultraconservative interpretation of Islamic law across the country.

“I think it’s a good approach to offer to negotiate peace. At the end of the day they are from Afghanistan,” said Sergeant Ahmad Fawad, 28 years old, who has served in the Afghan Army since 2009. “Eventually they will realize what they are doing is wrong. It is up to us to convince them”.

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