At least six dead as Taliban insurgents launch attacks across Afghanistan

Security forces guard a military convoy near Kandahar Afghanistan. The Taliban said Friday it's planning a spring offensive as a response to a similar plan by the Kabul government. File

Security forces guard a military convoy near Kandahar Afghanistan. The Taliban said Friday it's planning a spring offensive as a response to a similar plan by the Kabul government. File

In Kabul, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani described the Taliban offensive as an "illegitimate war", reminding the insurgents that Muslim religious leaders across the world had "clearly said that the war in Afghanistan has no religious legitimacy and its continuance has no legitimate judgment".

Zalmay Khalilzad, the USA diplomat who has held several rounds of talks with the Taliban in hopes of reaching a peace deal, called the once-routine annual announcement "reckless" and "irresponsible".

"At a time when all Afghans should come together in talks to determine a common future, a call for fighting suggests the Taliban are stuck in the ways of the past".

The statement says that the announcement comes amid "thorough" efforts by the Afghan government to end the "imposed" war in Afghanistan and amid the ongoing talks between a delegation of the group and the United States.

The Ministry of Defense in a statement said the offensive has been announced by the Quetta Shura, Taliban's leadership council, and that by making such an announcement, the group wants to give morale to its fighters after "facing many defeats".

In a series of tweets released hours after the Taliban announced a new spring offensive, the USA chief peace negotiator also urged Pakistan and Qatar to condemn the Taliban's announcement, arguing that an increase in violence will only hurt the peace process that these two states were backing.

"The US and our global partners will stand with Afghan security forces to continue our effort to end the war in Afghanistan, at the same time as we seek to bring parties to the table to negotiate peace", Khalilzad reiterated.

Peace talks are due to resume in Doha next week between USA envoy Khalilzad and Taliban officials. "Afghan people want peace, and the U.S. stands with them", he concluded in a tweet.

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In the western Ghor province, the Taliban ambushed a police convoy on Friday afternoon, killing seven security forces and igniting a battle that raged for several hours, said Abdul Hai Khateby, the governor's spokesman. "We have a tremendous opportunity for peace".

Fed up with the $45 billion annual price tag and what his military leaders termed a "stalemate", US President Donald Trump previous year made a decision to slash the number of American soldiers in Afghanistan.

Taliban forces attacked the northern Afghan city of Kunduz on Saturday, a day after the launch of their annual spring offensive, as fighting intensified across the country ahead of the next round of peace talks with USA representatives.

"They engaged Afghan security forces to show their presence with the start of their spring offensive", one senior official said. The goal of the Taliban's Operation Fath - "victory" in Arabic - is to cleanse Afghanistan from invasion and corruption, the movement reportedly said.

Omar Zwak, the provincial governor's spokesman, said the attacks had been repelled at the cost of four soldiers and 15 Taliban.

"Both sides have sustained casualties", the Afghan defence ministry said.

The National Security Council said in a statement that the plan, named Khalid Security Plan, is aimed at boosting security across the country particularly the security of urban areas and highways.

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