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Taliban Openly Active In 70% Of Afghan Territory: Study

NEW YORK, Jan 31 (APP):Despite 16 years of anti-Taliban operations by the United States and its allies in Afghanistan, the militant group is still openly active in the 70 percent of the strife-torn country and have full control of 14 districts, according to a new study.
As Kabul reels from a deadly wave of terror attacks, the study released by the BBC shows that the percentage of the Afghan population under the control of the central government has slipped, the land mass under the control of coalition forces is shrinking, and the number of Taliban fighters may have doubled in the past four years.
The BBC conducted the research in 399 districts across Afghanistan between August 23 and November 21 last year, using a network of its reporters who spoke to over 1,200 individual local forces across the country.
The research shows that nearly 15 million people – half the population – are living in areas affected by the Taliban presence.
The results are significantly higher than the most recent assessment of 407 districts by the NATO-led coalition, which said on Tuesday that the militant group contested or controlled 44 percent of Afghan districts as of October, 2017.
The BBC study said the Afghan government controlled 122 districts, or about 30 percent of the country, but noted that even those areas are not safe from Taliban attacks.
An Afghan government spokesman has downplayed the BBC findings, according to media reports.
The Pentagon did not directly comment on the BBC study, but pointed to the latest figures by North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), which shows that nearly 56 percent of Afghanistan’s territory was under Afghan government control or influence.
The BBC study also said that Islamic State (Da’esh) terrorists are also active in 30 Afghan districts in the east and the north, but they are not in control of any specific.
The study was released amid a sharp spike in terror attacks by both Taliban and Daesh against Afghan civilians and security forces.
Meanwhile, US President Donald Trump’s rejection of peace talks with the Taliban has provoked a strong reaction from the Taliban, while leading Afghan clerics advocate against continuation of military action to end the war in Afghanistan, according to media reports.
“We have always maintained, the true authority of war and peace is not with the Kabul regime but with the American invaders, and the recent statement by Trump made this matter brighter than the sun,” Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said Tuesday.
Trump ruled out talks with the insurgent group and vowed to “finish” them in the wake of a wave of terrorist attacks in Kabul, that killed hundreds of people.
“They’re killing people left and right. Innocent people being killed left and right,” Trump told a UN Security Council delegation at the White House on Monday.
“So we don’t want to talk with the Taliban. There may be a time, but it’s going to be a long time,” noted the US president, suggesting a stronger military campaign against the Taliban was imminent.
Trump and his “war-mongering supporters” should expect an equal reaction and not “roses” from the Taliban, asserted the insurgent spokesman in a written statement released to media.
“War will only make the reactionary jihadist waves more violent and increase the human and financial losses of American troops by many folds,” Mujahid said.
A spokesman for Afghan President Ashraf Ghani on Tuesday stopped short of supporting Trump’s idea of rejecting talks with insurgents. Shah Hussain Murtazawi told Voice of America (VOA) that the Afghan government would now use all available means to stop the Taliban from conducting terrorist attacks.
“The Taliban have crossed a red line and lost the opportunity for peace…We have to look for peace on the battlefield. They have to be marginalized,” Murtazawi pledged. He said a suicide car bombing last Saturday was the “red line.” The blast killed more than 100 people and wounded 250 others.

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