March 19, 2020 / 3:23 PM / 3 months ago

Afghan forces ramp up defence options as Taliban attacks continue

KABUL, March 19 (Reuters) - Afghanistan said on Thursday it was ordering its forces to switch to an “active defence posture” as the Taliban continued to attack even after the militant group signed a deal with the United States.

“The Taliban continued high level of violence despite the peace agreement,” acting defence minister Asadullah Kalid said in a video statement.

“An active defence posture will reduce the restrictions on ANDSF (Afghan National Defense and Security Forces) and it will allow them to carry out operations against the Taliban plotting attacks against ANDSF,” he added. Afghan government forces had previously been able to fight back only when under direct attack.

The United States in February signed a deal with the Taliban aimed at paving the way for them to negotiate with the Afghan government, including an agreement on withdrawing foreign troops.

The Taliban say they have held back from attacking international forces since then but have continued to attack Afghan forces, with U.S. and Afghan officials calling for a reduction in violence.

Kalid also proposed a full ceasefire with the Taliban “to help the fight against the coronavirus”.

The Taliban did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

On Wednesday, the U.S. special envoy for Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, also called on both sides to speed up progress on a key sticking point - the release of thousands of Taliban prisoners. He said the global outbreak of coronavirus added impetus to move quickly.

Afghanistan currently has 22 confirmed cases and there are fears it could increase and swamp the country’s vulnerable healthcare system as thousands return each day from Iran, one of the worst-affected nations globally.

The Taliban have said they are alarmed at the virus and have asked to work with international organisation to prevent its spread. The government says it still has reports of the militants attacking health workers, which the group has denied. (Reporting by Abdul Qadir Sediqi; Writing by Charlotte Greenfield; Editing by Giles Elgood)

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