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Taliban to launch Afghan offensive

Vownew attacks will start today

By Deb Riechmann
Associated Press / May 1, 2011

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KABUL — The spring fighting season in Afghanistan geared up this weekend with a war of words.

The Taliban announced they will begin their spring offensive today, pledging to attack military bases, convoys, and Afghan officials, including members of the peace council working to reconcile with top insurgent leaders. Yesterday’s declaration came a day after a new Pentagon report claimed the militants were experiencing low morale after suffering heavy losses on the battlefield.

“The war in our country will not come to an end unless and until the foreign invading forces pull out of Afghanistan,’’ the Taliban said in a two-page statement released by the leadership council of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, which is what the movement calls itself.

Senior officers with the US-led coalition said Friday that the Taliban — aided by the Al Qaeda-linked Haqqani network — have plans to conduct a brief series of high-profile attacks, including suicide bombings, across the country in a display of power. The officers spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss recent intelligence, firmed up in the past couple of days, that lead to the assessment.

Lieutenant Colonel John Dorrian, a spokesman for the coalition, said the Taliban planned to use the violence as a “propaganda ploy’’ to try to demonstrate their relevance and create the perception of momentum despite recent setbacks.

In recent months, the US-led coalition said it has seized insurgent weapons caches, pushed the Taliban from their historic strongholds in the south, and captured and killed hundreds of their fighters and field commanders. The Taliban have responded with suicide bombings and targeted attacks on troops and Afghan government officials.

In Brussels, a NATO official said yesterday that international forces had already tightened security in anticipation of an uptick in assassinations and spectacular attacks by the Taliban, who are claiming that they have infiltrated the ranks of the Afghan security forces. The official could not be identified in line with standing regulations at the alliance.

Security agencies employed by Westerners working in Afghanistan have issued lockdowns and travel restrictions.

The Afghan intelligence agency said the government had tightened security. Defense Ministry spokesman General Mohammad Zahir Azimi said the peace process was advancing and that the Afghan security forces with the cooperation of international forces were in a strong defensive position to counter the violence.

The Pentagon report claimed coalition and Afghan forces had halted the insurgents’ momentum in much of the country and reversed it in important areas.

However, the report also said that progress in development and in expanding the Afghan government’s influence and control outside Kabul had not kept pace with security gains. Progress across Afghanistan remained “fragile and reversible.’’

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