Taliban calls upcoming vote 'malicious American conspiracy', vows to attack government forces
The Taliban vowed on Monday to target government forces during upcoming parliamentary elections later this month.
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid called the polls a "malicious American conspiracy" and said the militants would pull no punches to disrupt the long-delayed ballot scheduled for 20 October.
"People who are trying to help in holding this process successfully by providing security should be targeted and no stone should be left unturned for the prevention and failure" of the election, Mujahid said in a statement published in English.
The Taliban -- Afghanistan's largest militant group that was toppled from power in the 2001 US-led invasion -- typically issue inflammatory and hyperbolic statements about the Afghan government and its international backers.
But this latest declaration comes just days before the parliamentary election, which is seen as a crucial dry run for next year's presidential vote and has already been marred by deadly violence.
It also comes as US peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad meets with Afghan leaders for the first time since his appointment last month to steer peace efforts with the militants.
Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah, Afghanistan's equivalent of prime minister, welcomed the visit by Afghanistan-born Khalilzad in televised remarks on Monday.
"We believe if more attention is paid to the (peace) process, there is a good chance of success," Abdullah said.
Khalilzad -- a high-profile former US ambassador to Kabul, Baghdad and the UN -- is on a 10-day regional trip that also includes Pakistan, the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Qatar.
He met with President Ashraf Ghani and other top leaders on Sunday night to discuss "an Afghan-led and Afghan-owned peace process", Ghani's office said in a statement.
Afghan and international players have been ratcheting up efforts to hold talks with the Taliban.
An unprecedented ceasefire in June followed by talks between US officials and Taliban representatives in Qatar in July fuelled hopes that negotiations could bring an end to the fighting.
But a wave of violence involving the Taliban and the Islamic State group in recent months has poured cold water on the nascent optimism.
This year has already proved to be the deadliest in Afghanistan's 17-year-war. Suicide bombs caused 2,343 civilian casualties so far, more than any other tactic, including ground fighting, according to a UN report earlier this month.
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