KABUL -- The Taliban have killed at least 291 Afghan security personnel over the past week, a top government official said Monday (June 22), accusing the insurgents of unleashing a wave of violence ahead of potential peace talks.
The past week was the deadliest in the country's 19 years of conflict, said Javid Faisal, a spokesman for the National Security Council, even as the insurgents dismissed the latest figures.
The Taliban carried out 422 attacks in 32 provinces in the past week, killing 291 security force personnel and wounding 550 others, Faisal said on Twitter.
"Taliban's commitment to reduce violence is meaningless, and their actions inconsistent with their rhetoric on peace," he said.
The Taliban rejected the latest government figures.
"The enemy aims to hurt the peace process and intra-Afghan talks by releasing such false reports," Zabiullah Mujahid, the Taliban's spokesman in Afghanistan, told AFP.
The latest government accusations come as Kabul and the Taliban have signalled that they were getting closer to launching much-delayed peace talks.
President Ashraf Ghani has vowed to complete a Taliban prisoner release that is a key condition to beginning the peace negotiations with the insurgents aimed at ending almost two decades of war.
Authorities already have released about 3,000 Taliban prisoners and plan to free another 2,000 as stipulated in the insurgents' deal with Washington signed in February.
The Taliban have said they are ready for peace talks but only after the release of the remaining 2,000 insurgents.
Attacks on health workers
Meanwhile, the United Nations (UN) on Sunday (June 21) said that the Taliban had carried out "deliberate" attacks against healthcare workers and facilities at a time when Afghanistan is grappling with the deadly coronavirus epidemic.
The UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) said it had registered 12 such acts of violence between March 11 and May 23 against healthcare facilities and workers.
Eight of the attacks were attributed to the Taliban, while Afghan forces were responsible for three.
One attack, the horrifying assault on a Kabul-based maternity hospital on May 12, still remained unclaimed.
The assault on the maternity ward of Dasht e-Barchi hospital in Kabul left 25 people dead, including 16 mothers, according to the international charity Doctors Without Borders (MSF).
The group announced last week that it was pulling out of the facility rather than risk similar attacks in the future.
The report comes as Afghanistan grapples with surging cases of the coronavirus.
So far it has reported 29,143 confirmed cases with 598 deaths.
"Perpetrating targeted attacks on healthcare during the COVID-19 pandemic, a time when health resources are already stretched and of critical importance to the civilian population, is particularly reprehensible," said Fiona Frazer, UNAMA's human-rights chief.