The Taliban declared the start of a spring offensive across Afghanistan yesterday, warning they would target foreign troops, as well as Afghan security forces and top government officials, in a wave of attacks including suicide bombings.
In a statement, the Taliban warned Afghan civilians to stay away from public gatherings, military bases and convoys, as well as Afghan government centers and buildings, as these would be the focus of attacks starting today.
The Taliban statement comes just a day after senior military officials and Western diplomats warned they expected a surge in insurgent attacks over the next week, beginning today.
“The Leadership Council of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan wants to declare the launching of the spring military operations named as ‘Badar’ to be waged against the invading Americans and their foreign allies and internal supports,” the Taliban said in an e-mailed statement.
“Operations will focus on attacks against military centers, places of gatherings, airbases, ammunition and logistical military convoys of the foreign invaders in all parts of the country,” the Taliban said.
Senior military officials told reporters on Friday that recent intelligence indicated the campaign of increased violence would last about a week and would be mounted by the Taliban, supported by the al-Qaeda-linked Haqqani network and other insurgents.
Washington and commanders of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) have trumpeted successes against a growing insurgency since 30,000 extra US troops were sent to Afghanistan last year.
The Taliban said the targets of the attacks would be foreign forces, high-ranking officials of Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s government, members of the Cabinet and lawmakers, as well as the heads of foreign and local companies working for the NATO-led coalition.
“All Afghan people should bear in mind to keep away from gatherings, convoys and centers of the enemy so that they will not become harmed during attacks of mujahidin against the enemy,” the Taliban said.
Senior military commanders have long anticipated a spike in violence with the arrival of the spring and summer “fighting season,” although the usual winter lull was not seen as US-led forces pressed their attacks against insurgents, particularly in the Taliban’s southern heartland.
Violence across Afghanistan hit record levels last year, with civilian and military casualties the worst since US-backed Afghan forces toppled the Taliban government in late 2001.
The Pentagon said in a biannual report on Friday that an overall increase in violence was due in part to increased targeting of insurgent safe havens and unseasonably mild winter weather.
The Taliban did not say how long their stepped-up campaign would last, but said it had been codenamed “Badar” after a decisive Muslim seventh-century battle victory in western Arabia that Muslims attribute to divine intervention.
In the statement, the Taliban repeated their frequent claim that fighting in Afghanistan would not end until foreign troops had left the country.
They also called on Afghan government officials and security forces to switch sides to the insurgency.
Military commanders interviewed by reporters this week were not sure why May 1 had been chosen by the Taliban to launch their renewed offensive.