KABUL --The Taliban has announced the start of their spring offensive despite preparations for a major gathering of Afghans for talks on ending the country's nearly 18-year war.
In an April 12 statement released in five languages, including English, the Taliban said the fighting would continue while foreign forces remain in Afghanistan.
Commentators say the announcement is something the militant group does every year, even though Taliban attacks never really ceased during the harsh winter months.
The statement comes after a Taliban spokesman said the UN Security Council has at least temporarily removed sanctions on members of the militant group's negotiating team.
Spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid told RFE/RL’s Radio Mashaal and the Afghan Islamic Press (AIP) late on April 11 that the Taliban’s negotiation team in Qatar had been informed by the Security Council that the names of Taliban figures had been removed from the sanctions list.
Mujahid did not provide details, but AIP quoted a Taliban source as saying the Security Council “has taken the decision with the consultation of its five permanent members. In the first step, the sanctions have been lifted for nine months. However, later the Taliban leadership was informed that the decision would be extended.”
The report could not independently be confirmed, and neither the UN nor permanent members of the Security Council have commented on the report.
Many members of the 14-man Taliban team negotiating with the U.S. special envoy for peace in Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, are on a UN sanctions list.
Khalilzad has been meeting with Taliban negotiators in Qatar in an effort to bring an end to the 18-year war in Afghanistan.
On April 11, the Afghan government said talks with the Taliban that were meant to start on April 14 in Qatar have been rescheduled to begin five days later.
The planned meeting has been seen as a significant step toward finding an end to Afghanistan's long war and allowing the withdrawal of U.S. troops from the country.
Kabul has complained vehemently that it has been sidelined in talks between Khalilzad and the Taliban militants, who have called the Afghan government a puppet of the West and refused to officially negotiate with its representatives.
The Taliban says it will speak with government representatives in the Doha meetings but recognize them only as "ordinary" Afghans.
In February, the Taliban called off a planned round of peace talks in Pakistan, saying that most of the members of the negotiating team were unable to travel because they were subject to U.S. and UN sanctions.
The Afghan government had angrily protested the planned discussions in Pakistan, saying the meeting "constitutes a violation of the national sovereignty of Afghanistan."
The Kabul government said the meeting would amount to the official recognition and legitimization of an armed-group that poses a serious threat to the security and stability of Afghanistan, and whose members are sanctioned by provisions of the UN Security Council's 1988 Committee’s Sanctions Regime.”
The United States, which is a Security Council permanent member, also has similar sanctions on Taliban individuals.