Petraeus warns of more bloodshed in Afghanistan

NATO-led forces have dealt significant losses to the Taliban in Afghanistan but the rebels are spoiling for a tough fight in the spring to regain their sanctuaries, the alliance’s top commander warned.

General David Petraeus said intelligence services picked up a degree of “discord” and “friction” between frontline rebels and Taliban rear commanders trying to convince them to fight through the winter.

But the rebels will likely seek to regain their territories in the spring thaw, Petraeus told NATO TV in an interview broadcast on Wednesday.

“When you’re on the offensive taking away areas that matter to the insurgents, the insurgents have to fight back and violence goes up. It’s a necessary part of any counter insurgency,” he said.

“They’ve sustained significant losses, but this is a resilient insurgency and we have our eyes very wide open and we clearly recognise the challenges that lie ahead,” Petraeus said.

Last year was the deadliest one for Western troops in Afghanistan since the US-led overthrow of the Taliban regime in 2001, with 711 foreign soldiers killed.

NATO officials have attributed the higher death toll to the US decision to deploy 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan as part of an effort to take back the initiative in the war.

The alliance has 140,000 troops on the ground and hopes to step up training of Afghan security forces to build up their numbers from 256,000 to 306,000 by the end of the year.

NATO plans to begin handing over the combat lead to Afghan troops in the first half of this year, with the goal of giving them full security responsibility across the country by 2014.