Alwaght- The Taliban militant group has announced on Friday the beginning of its spring offensive in Afghanistan despite involvement in peace talks with the US and ahead of planned meetings with Afghan representatives later this month.
The Taliban said Operation Fath will be conducted across Afghanistan with the aim of what the militant group claimed was "eradicating occupation" and "cleansing our Muslim homeland from invasion and corruption.”
In constant fight with Afghan government forces, the group also opposes the continued presence of US forces that have invaded the country since late 2001.
The announcement came as judges at the International Criminal Court (ICC) rejected a request by the court's prosecutor to probe atrocities committed by US forces in Afghanistan.
Hours after the Friday announcement, a large number of Taliban militants stormed the Shirzad district center in Afghanistan’s eastern province of Nangarhar and put heavy pressure on government forces.
“The enemy still seeks to attain its malicious objectives through the use of force," the Taliban said in an apparent reference to Afghan government troops.
It also called on Afghan soldiers, police and other pro-government forces to join them at the onset of the spring offensive as "our Jihadi obligation has not yet ended.”
Qais Mangal, Afghan Defense Ministry spokesman, denounced the Taliban threat as mere propaganda. "The Taliban will not reach their vicious goals and their operations will be defeated like previous years,” he said.
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani announced his government’s own spring offensive, dubbed Operation Khalid, against the militant group last month.
Clashes have intensified in Afghanistan's northern, northeastern and southern parts and the situation is expected to escalate as the weather gets warmer.
In a recent encounter on Monday night, at least eight members of the Afghan police lost their lives in an attack by the Taliban in northern Balkh province.
Three US Marines were also killed on Monday in a Taliban roadside bomb attack at Bagram air base north of the Afghan city.
The latest round of peace talks between US and Taliban officials wrapped up last month, with both sides citing progress.
The Taliban have reiterated opposition to direct talks with President Ghani's administration in Kabul. However, Ghani has repeatedly stressed that no peace deal between the Taliban and the US could be finalized without involving his government.
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.
The Taliban have said it plans to meet soon with an Afghan delegation at a peace conference and the government in Kabul has vowed to lift travel restrictions for some Taliban officials for the meeting.
The Taliban's five-year rule over at least three quarters of Afghanistan came to an end following the US invasion in 2001 but 18 years on, Washington is seeking truce with the militants, who still control larges swathes of land in the country.
US President Donald Trump has announced in the past that he would reduce the number of US forces in Afghanistan. The Taliban have said the US promised them to withdraw half of its troops although the timing for the pullout has not been finalized.
US forces have remained bogged down in Afghanistan through the presidencies of George W. Bush, Barack Obama, and now Trump.