Taliban calls on Afghans to plant trees as 'Spring offensive' looms

Taliban new leader Mullah Haibatullah Akhundzada is seen in an undated photograph, posted on a Taliban twitter feed. Photograph:( Reuters )

AFP Kabul, Afghanistan Feb 26, 2017, 03.09 PM (IST)

Taliban leader on Sunday urged Afghans to plant more trees as the militant organisation gears up for the beginning of the annual fighting season. 

In a rare public remark, Haibatullah Akhundzada posted the message on the group's website, saying: "The Mujahideen and beloved countrymen must join hands in tree plantation and not hold back any effort in this regard."

Akhundzada further eulogised about the importance of trees: "(They play) an important role in environmental protection, economic development and beautification of earth."

Akhundzada took over the reins of Taliban after his predecessor Akhtar Mansour and the second-in-command were killed in a US drone strike in Pakistan last May. 

Sediq Sediqqi, the interior ministry spokesman, responded by saying the Taliban should stop planting bombs instead. 

"They should stop planting IEDs (Improvised Explosive Devices) that are killing so many innocent Afghans including children and women daily", he said on his Twitter account. 

Afghan civilian casualties in 2016 were the highest recorded by the UN, with nearly 11,500 non-combatants killed or wounded.

More than 3,500 children were among the victims, a "disproportionate" increase of 24 percent in one year, the UN said in a recent report.

Afghanistan last year also saw the highest recorded civilian casualties caused by pressure-plate IEDs in a single year, according to the world body.

(WION with inputs from AFP)