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Wednesday May 20 2020

Committed to deal with US, says Afghan Taliban leader

Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar and Zalmay Khalilzad shake hands after signing an agreement on February 29 in Doha. Photo: Reuters

Afghan Taliban leader Haibatullah Akhundzada has said the group was committed to its landmark deal which it signed with the United States in February.

Akhundzada urged Washington "not to waste" the opportunity offered by the deal to end America's longest war in a message released ahead of next week's Eid-ul-Fitr holiday, which marks the end of Ramadan.

"The Islamic Emirate is committed to the agreement signed with America and urges the other side to honour its own commitments and not allow this critical opportunity to go waste," Akhundzada said in a statement.

"I urge American officials to not afford anyone the opportunity to obstruct, delay and ultimately derail this internationally recognised bilateral agreement" between the two sides, the reclusive leader added.

After months of negotiations, the Taliban and US signed a deal in February which stipulates Washington will withdraw all troops by next year in return for security guarantees.

US President Donald Trump's administration has made it a priority to end the war in Afghanistan, and in a bid to withdraw foreign forces US officials have been pushing the Taliban and Afghan leaders to hold peace talks.

Under the accord, the Taliban pledged to stop attacking cities and foreign forces, but has continued to target Afghan forces in the provinces.

Analysts say the Taliban have been emboldened by the February deal, and Afghan government officials have reported more than 3,800 attacks, which killed 420 civilians and wounded 906, since signing the deal.

The United Nations has warned that the spike in violence has also led to increased casualties among civilians.

The Taliban have also stepped up attacks against Afghan forces after President Ashraf Ghani ordered troops to adopt offensive posture against the militants following two deadly attacks last week that killed dozens.