KABUL, Afghanistan - For 17 long years, the Afghanistan-based Islamic fundamentalist terror outfit, Taliban, has fought a relentless war against the Western-backed government in the central Asian nation.
The Sunni group has been battling Afghanistan's elected government in a bid to further its agenda of reimposing its strict version of Islamic law.
With Afghanistan set to hold its critical Parliamentary elections on October 20, Taliban, which has struck previous polls in the country with a more menacing strategy, has finally commented on its agenda ahead of the elections.
Plotting absolute decimation
On Monday, Taliban broke its mysterious months-long silence and announced that it was single-mindedly focussed on unleashing a campaign to disrupt the vote.
Taliban released a statement, in which the group described the elections as a “bogus” U.S. move to consolidate its invasion of Afghanistan.
Calling on Afghans to abandon the polls, Taliban said, “The Islamic Emirate (Taliban), while representing the people and as an emancipative force of the nation, considers this process a fake one as a conspiracy of deceiving the people for achieving the malicious interests of foreigners."
The terror organization's statement added, “The Islamic Emirate instructs all its Mujahideen to halt this American-led process throughout the country by creating severe obstacles for it, while taking extensive and intensive care of civilian Afghan lives and their properties."
The warning has alarmed the country, that is already battling worries related to the vulnerability of civilians, who would be voting across polling sites spread out across the nation.
As the country initiated preparations for the elections, that have already been delayed several times, the deterioration of the country’s security which has emerged in the recent spate of attacks, has emboldened militants.
Afghan forces are now engaged in a multi-pronged war with Taliban, which has stationed its insurgents in key areas it has seized and has received the backing of American forces, that have increased airstrikes in the country.
Last week, the United Nations warned that the aggressive offensive against militants in the country has had an adverse effect, leading to a considerable rise in civilian casualties from aerial bombardments.
Further, the United Nations mission in Afghanistan revealed that Afghan and U.S. airstrikes have killed 149 civilians and left 204 injured in the first six months of this year.
It pointed out that this was a 52 percent increase from the same period last year.
Meanwhile, on Monday, the Taliban called on its members in various pockets of the country to initiate a deadly campaign aimed at preventing the elections.
So far, the rise in deadly attacks, have forced government authorities to shut over 2,000 polling sites, fearing violent attacks that could increase civilian casualties.
Further, Afghanistan's local media reports have stated in recent weeks that seven candidates have been killed in targetted pre-campaigning attacks across the country.
Last month, noting the sharp uptick in violence, Afghanistan's security officials issued a warning over the danger of militant attacks during election campaign events and rallies.
Emboldened reign of terror
The 17-year-old war, which has grown increasingly savage with each passing year, remains deadlocked as the Taliban has rejected the countless offers of engaging in talks, made by the Afghanistan government and its Western allies.
In 2001, the Afghanistan government managed to topple the Taliban in a U.S.-led invasion.
However, since then, Taliban has regrouped and driven its agenda with a deadly vindictiveness, targeting Afghanistan Government Forces with deadly attacks, leading to the deaths of tens of thousands of Afghans and scores of soldiers.
All the while, Taliban's fury has been directed towards the government's Western allies, who have grouped under the NATO-led Resolute Support mission.
Taliban has refused to compromise on its biggest demand - the withdrawal of foreign forces from the country.
It has maintained that its key demand is a pre-condition for any kind of peace talks to begin.
In 2014, the foreign combat forces that comprised a 140,000-member strong multi-nation deployment withdrew from Afghanistan.
The withdrawal emboldened Taliban, with plotted deadlier assaults and extended its influence over huge swaths of the country
The terror outfit has continued to intensify its bloody campaign against the bucking Afghanistan forces and the 15,600 foreign troops in the country and has managed to score significant victories, by winning back control of certain key areas that were previously reclaimed from the group.
Meanwhile, the U.S., which is the Afghanistan government's strongest military muscle on the ground and in the air, has offered unwavering support to the war-torn nation over the last 17 years.
America's backing in the deadly war is the country's longest foreign military engagement ever.
The U.S. strategy in Afghanistan witnessed a marked change last year when the country's new administration under the U.S. President Donald Trump unveiled a more hawkish military approach in August.
The new strategy included a surge in air strikes, aimed at forcing the Taliban to the negotiating table under the NATO-led Resolute Support mission.
As part of the strategy, U.S. forces have dropped nearly 3,000 bombs across Afghanistan in the first six months of 2018.
This is said to be nearly double the number recorded during the same period last year and more than five times the number for the first half of 2016.
However, the aggressive campaign has adversely affected the Afghan security forces, which is said to have faced a significant impact.
According to official government data, over 10,000 Afghan civilians have been killed and injured in the last year alone.
Ever since the start of the war, the current phase is said to be the deadliest periods witnessed by the terrorized nation.
A notorious new foe torments
The nation has grown increasingly vulnerable since it is now, not only battling the increasing number of attacks by both Taliban, but is facing another deadly threat, by a group that was born out of the fragments of what was once the world's deadliest terrorist organization - the Islamic State (ISIS).
The local affiliate of Islamic State - known as Islamic State Khorasan (ISIS-K) - launched its barbaric campaign in Afghanistan in 2014, and has continued to terrorize the nation since then.
The local ISIS affiliate, which has carried out scores of deadly attacks since then, often targets the Afghan security forces and the country’s Shiite minority.
The group has frequently targeted Afghanistan's eastern province of Nangarhar, which is on the border with Pakistan, and this year, the number of attacks by the group has witnessed a sharp rise.
Even though the Afghanistan Security Forces, along with the U.S. and NATO support have managed to fight the well-established insurgency of Taliban for years, the small but potent ISIS outfit in the country has proven to be a massive challenge for government forces.
The U.S. Military estimates that there are about 2,000 Islamic State fighters in Afghanistan.
Last week, as the country prepared for the elections and candidates, launched formal campaigning rallies, an ISIS suicide bombing plunged the nation into fear.
The attack in Nangarhar province saw a suicide bomber blowing himself up right at the centre of an election rally being held by Nasir Mohmand in Nangarhar’s Kama district.
At least 13 people were killed and over 30 others were injured in the attack.
The attack flared up worries in the country over the safety of civilians who would be heading to the polls on October 20, to cast their ballot.
Broken, bruised and exploited
While the war has endangered their safety and destroyed their peace for more than a decade, the citizens in Afghanistan would be expected to pick their future leader in an election that is plagued with fears of fraud.
With a little over a week to go before the decisive elections, the country is now confronted with a widening political rift between members of the government.
Apart from that, the election has also exposed the dissatisfaction over the electoral process among factional leaders.
Further, the country's President Ashraf Ghani has been accused of trying to manipulate the results, in a bid to boost his own reelection in six months time.
Ghani's office has vehemently denied the charges.
Yet, the security situation on the day of the election, when tens of thousands of civilians would head to cast their votes - making polling stations a vulnerable target - continues to haunt the country's government and its people.
Ghani has said in a statement that the security plans involve the stationing of scores of Afghan forces across the country, adding that the country's security force will be advised and backed by U.S.-led troops.
Meanwhile, an Afghanistan Interior Ministry official has stated that security preparations are on the right track for the vote - declaring confidently that the Taliban would not be able to disrupt the process.