The Taliban on Friday announced its annual spring offensive, even while it is in peace talks with the United States and ahead of planned meetings with Afghan representatives later this month.
Operation Fath, which means “victory” in Arabic, will be conducted across Afghanistan with the aim of “eradicating occupation” and “cleansing our Muslim homeland from invasion and corruption,” the Taliban said in a statement.
The annual spring offensive traditionally marks the start of the so-called fighting season, though the announcement is largely symbolic as in recent winters the Taliban has continued fighting Afghan and US forces.
The administration of President Ashraf Ghani declared its own spring offensive last month, Operation Khalid, and the Taliban used that announcement as a justification for launching a new push.
It shows “the enemy still seeks to attain its malicious objectives through the use of force,” the Taliban said.
The group called on Afghan soldiers, police and other pro-government fighters to join them.
The group said it will keep fighting despite gains it has made across the country because international forces continue to have military and political influence, including launching bombing attacks and ground raids.
“Our Jihadi obligation has not yet ended,” the Taliban said.
Qais Mangal, a spokesman for the Afghan Ministry of Defence, said the Taliban’s spring offensive is “mere propaganda”.
“The Taliban will not reach their vicious goals and their operations will be defeated like previous years,” Mangal said.
The group controls or contests about half of the country and Afghan security forces are taking high casualties.
After suffering horrific bloodshed in 2018, Kabul has in recent weeks enjoyed something of a lull in violence.
But on Monday three US Marines were killed in a Taliban attack at Bagram air base north of the city, and authorities in the capital are on high alert.
The US has held several rounds of talks with the Taliban in a bid to bring an end to the war against the fighters. The group has repeatedly refused to meet with Ghani’s government calling it a “puppet” of the West.
Another round of negotiations are expected to take place later this month in Qatar where the Taliban have a political office, and will include representatives from a variety of Afghan groups.
An Afghan delegation who are not part of the government also met with the Taliban in Moscow in February.
The United States still has about 14,000 troops in Afghanistan, nearly 18 years after the US-led invasion to topple the Taliban.
In 2018 a record 10,993 civilians were wounded or killed in Afghanistan, according to UN figures.
Last December there were reports US President Donald Trump was planning to halve the number of American soldiers in Afghanistan, though no such drawdown has happened yet.