KABUL – Afghan President Ashraf Ghani said Tuesday that more than 3,500 Afghan security forces have been killed since the United States and the Taliban signed a peace agreement in February.
The announcement came as the Afghan government and the Taliban on the same day declared a three-day cease-fire coinciding with the Eid al-Adha Muslim holiday on Friday.
“Our hope is this Eid brings all Afghans together in understanding & mutual respect and one step closer to a sustainable peace,” said U.S. envoy Zalmay Khalilzad in a tweet Tuesday.
Speaking at the Senior Officials Meeting in Kabul, Ghani said about 3,560 Afghan national defense and security forces (ANDSF) were killed and 6,780 more wounded in Taliban attacks between February 29, when the U.S.-Taliban agreement was signed, and July 21.
“The Taliban, however, have carried a full-scale offensive against the ANDSF, the people and the government of Afghanistan,” Ghani said. “What kind of peace dividend is this? What does it say about intentions?”
He said about 775 civilians were killed and 1,609 were injured during that timeline.
The Afghan government in the past has refrained from releasing the exact number of casualties from clashes with the Taliban. Ghani, however, said that in late 2018, more than 28,500 security forces had been killed since 2015.
Afghan forces have sustained an increase in the number of casualties since late 2014 when the U.S. and the U.S.-led coalition ended their combat mission in Afghanistan and withdrew most of their troops. The U.S. has since decreased its troops to 9,800, and the coalition focused on advising, training and assisting the Afghan security forces.
According to the U.N. Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), about 1,280 civilians were killed and 2,176 wounded in violence across Afghanistan during the first six months of 2020.
In a report published Monday, UNAMA said that civilian casualties in the country were the lowest since 2012. It added that civilian casualties have dropped by 13% compared with the first six months of 2019.
Stephanie Case, head of Civilian Protection and Child Protection at UNAMA, told VOA’s Afghanistan service that the decrease in civilian causalities was due to a reduction in NATO forces operations and a fall in Islamic State attacks.
“Civilian casualties attributed to the two main parties to the conflict that are supposed to be at the negotiating table — the government of Afghanistan and the Taliban — have not decreased,” Case said. “We’re continuing to see concerning trends coming from those two parties.”
The Taliban have rejected the UNAMA report, which attributed 43% of the casualties to the group and 23% to the Afghan government.
In a statement on its website, the group questioned the objectivity of the report, saying its findings “were based on information provided by Kabul administration security organs and failed to establish actual cases of civilian casualties.”
UNAMA, however, has insisted that the report was impartial.
“We have no vested interest in blaming one side over another. Our interest lies squarely with the well-being of the Afghan population and with the victims,” Case told VOA.
Cease-fire and talks
U.S. and Afghan officials have in the past warned that continued violence by the Taliban remains a major obstacle toward a lasting peace in Afghanistan. The U.S. has called on both sides to refrain from escalating violence, expedite the release of prisoners and start intra-Afghan talks.
“The violence is too high. The UNAMA report talks about civilian casualties. We all know that as long as the violence level goes high, people who are going to pay are civilians. So, the violence needs to come down so we have an opportunity for a sustainable peace pathway,” Scott Miller, commander of NATO’s Resolute Support Mission in Afghanistan, told reporters Tuesday.
Disagreement on a prisoner swap has been another key obstacle ahead of the intra-Afghan negotiations.
In the U.S.-Taliban deal, the Afghan government is expected to release 5,000 Taliban prisoners in exchange for the Taliban freeing 1,000 Afghan forces.
The Afghan government previously rejected releasing 600 Taliban, saying they were “too dangerous.”
However, Ghani on Tuesday said his government would release the remaining Taliban to facilitate the peace talks.
“With this action, we look forward to the start of direct negotiations with the Taliban in a week’s time,” he said.
VOA’s Afghanistan service contributed to this report.