KABUL -- The Taliban have killed or wounded more than 400 Afghan security personnel in the past week, the Interior Ministry said Sunday (June 14), accusing the insurgents of increasing attacks ahead of expected peace talks.
Violence had dropped across much of Afghanistan since the Taliban announced a three-day ceasefire on May 24 to mark the Eid ul Fitr holiday, but officials have accused the insurgents of stepping up violence in recent days.
"In the past one week, the Taliban carried out 222 attacks against the Afghan security forces, resulting in the death and injury of 422" personnel, Interior Ministry spokesman Tariq Arian said at a press conference.
He accused the Taliban of targeting religious scholars in a bid to put "psychological pressure" on the Afghan government.
Bombings of Kabul mosques that killed two prayer leaders this month were the work of the insurgents, Arian said.
"This has been the goal of the Taliban -- to target religious scholars, especially in the past two weeks," he said, accusing the militants of being an "umbrella group for other terrorist networks".
On June 12, four people including a prayer leader were killed when a blast ripped through a mosque in Kabul during the weekly prayers.
No group claimed responsibility for the bombing, which came just over a week after an attack claimed by the "Islamic State of Iraq and Syria" (ISIS) at a mosque on the edge of Kabul's heavily fortified Green Zone killed a prominent prayer leader.
The Taliban condemned both terror acts.
After initially reporting a drop in overall violence following the ceasefire, National Security Council spokesman Javid Faisal June 14 said the Taliban "have not reduced, but rather increased their attacks across the country".
The insurgents killed 89 civilians and wounded 150 in the past two weeks, the council said June 13.
Taliban attacks on upswing
Both the Taliban and Afghan forces honoured the ceasefire during Eid, said Interior Minister Masood Andarabi.
"But after Eid, the Taliban attacks slowly started rising to its previous recorded numbers as before Eid," he told AFP.
"The Taliban are now looking for any targets or opportunities to attack, kidnap and assassinate Afghan officials," he said.
The Taliban are conducting more than 60 attacks every 24 hours, he said, adding that insurgent fighters were coming from areas in Waziristan and Balochistan, Pakistan.
The Taliban acknowledged targeting security forces but insisted the level remained low.
The Taliban have not claimed responsibility for any major attacks on Afghan cities since February, when they signed a deal with US negotiators meant to pave the way for intra-Afghan peace talks.
The latest government accusations come after Kabul and the Taliban signalled that they were getting closer to launching delayed peace talks.
President Ashraf Ghani has vowed to complete a Taliban prisoner release that is a key condition to beginning the negotiations with the insurgents aimed at ending almost two decades of war.
The authorities already have released about 3,000 Taliban prisoners and plan to further free 2,000 as stipulated in the insurgents' deal with United States.
"Our position is that our remaining prisoners should be released before the beginning of intra-Afghan negotiation," said Taliban political spokesman Suhail Shaheen.