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Taliban announces coming offensive

By Agencies in Kabul | China Daily | Updated: 2015-04-23 08:33

The Taliban in Afghanistan said their annual "spring offensive" will begin on Friday, vowing nationwide attacks in what is expected to be the bloodiest fighting season in a decade as NATO forces pull back from the front lines.

This year's offensive marks the first fighting season in which Afghan security forces will battle the insurgents without the presence of US-led foreign combat forces.

Taliban militants have already stepped up attacks on government and foreign targets in recent weeks, taking a heavy toll on civilians and Afghan security forces.

"The Islamic Emirate is going to launch the spring operations under the inspirational name of 'Azm' " - meaning determination - at 5 am on Friday, the Taliban said in a statement on Wednesday, using their formal name.

"The main targets of these operations ... will be the foreign occupiers, especially their permanent military bases ... officials of the stooge regime, their military constellations, especially their intelligence, interior ministry and defense ministry officials," the statement said.

NATO's combat mission formally ended in December, but a small follow-up foreign force has stayed on to train and support local security personnel.

US President Barack Obama last month backpedaled on plans to shrink the US force in Afghanistan this year by nearly half, agreeing to keep the current level of 9,800 US troops until the end of 2015.

The Taliban, who have waged a deadly insurgency since they were ousted from power in late 2001, warned that the announcement would damage any prospects of peace talks because they vowed to continue fighting.

Aside from the Taliban, the Afghan government has also repeatedly warned about the Islamic State group making inroads into the country.

President Ashraf Ghani blamed the IS for a suicide attack on Saturday in the eastern city of Jalalabad that killed 33 people and wounded more than 100 others. If verified, that would mark the first major attack by the jihadists in the country.

The upsurge in attacks has taken a heavy toll on ordinary Afghans.

The number of civilians killed and wounded in Afghanistan jumped 22 percent in 2014, according to the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan. And in the first three months of 2015, civilian casualties from ground fighting were up 8 percent on the same period last year, a new report said.

Three Afghan officials were killed on Wednesday morning in two separate explosions in the province of Nangarhar. It was the latest in a string of targeted killings, a provincial government spokesman said. The officials were traveling to their offices when they came under attack. No group claimed responsibility.

The Taliban militants have intensified attacks over the past couple of months as Afghan security forces assumed the full security responsibility from NATO-led troops on Jan 1.

In a separate development, militants set free 19 anti-mine personnel following mediation by tribal elders in eastern Paktia province late Tuesday, official sources said.

AFP - Xinhua


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