Photo: Yahoo Images
Kabul – The Afghan Taliban announced Tuesday the start of their “spring offensive” even as the government in Kabul tries to bring the insurgents back to the negotiating table to end their drawn-out conflict.
The Taliban said in a statement they would “employ large-scale attacks on enemy positions across the country” during the offensive they have dubbed “Operation Omari” in honour of the movement’s late founder Mullah Omar, whose death was announced last year.
The annual spring offensive normally marks the start of the “fighting season”, though this winter the lull was shorter and they continued to battle government forces albeit with less intensity.
The statement promised “martyrdom-seeking and tactical attacks against enemy strongholds”, a reference to suicide bombings — a strategy the group has long resorted to against its enemies the Afghan police and army, whom they view as “stooges” of the West.
On Monday, 12 fresh recruits were killed in one such attack in the country’s east.
The Islamists, who have been waging an insurgency since being toppled from power in 2001, also promised attacks on the 13,000 NATO troops currently stationed in the country, officially on a training and advisory mission since the end of their combat mission in 2014.
“By employing such a multifaceted strategy it is hoped that the foreign enemy will be demoralised and forced to evict our nation,” they said.
The Taliban have made the departure of all foreign forces a precondition to the resumption of direct peace talks with Kabul, which began last summer in Pakistan but ended abruptly after it was revealed that Mullah Omar had been dead for two years.
A four-country group comprising Afghanistan, the United States, China and Pakistan has been holding meetings since January aimed and jump-starting negotiations, though their efforts have so far been in vain.
Mullah Omar’s successor Mullah Akhtar Mansour, meanwhile, has won a string of impressive victories on the battlefield, helping to silence emerging factions by stepping up the intensity of his military campaign.
Last year the Taliban were able to briefly capture northern Kunduz, the first time they had held an Afghan city since the fall of their government in 2001.
The Taliban’s resurgence has raised serious questions about Afghan forces capacity to hold their own, with an estimated 5,000 troops killed last year, the worst ever toll.
It has also prompted calls for the US to reconsider its troop withdrawal schedule, already delayed once by President Barack Obama.
There are currently 9,800 American troops in the country, with the number set to fall to 5,500 by 2017.
General John Nicholson, the commander of US and NATO forces in Afghanistan since March, had promised during his US Senate confirmation hearings to review the drawdown plan.