Taliban announce start of spring offensive in Afghanistan

The Taliban announced the start of their warm-weather fighting season on April 12, 2016 vowing ‘large-scale attacks’ in the 15th year of their war against the US-backed Afghan government. In an email to media, the militants said the Spring offensive had begun at 5 am. They dubbed the campaign ‘OpeĀ­ration Omari’ in honour of Taliban founder Mullah Mohammad Omar, who died three years ago. The statement said this year’s campaign will incorporate suicide attacks, assassinations, and other tactics aimed at undermining the enemy’s morale. 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 insurgency has gained strength since the withdrawal of international troops from combat at the end of 2014 and the Taliban are stronger than at any point since they were driven from power by U.S.-backed forces in 2001.

As well as suicide and tactical attacks, the offensive would include assassinations of “enemy” commanders in urban centers, the Taliban said.

“The present operation will also employ all means at our disposal to bog the enemy down in a war of attrition that lowers the morale of the foreign invaders and their internal armed militias,” they said.

In line with recent statements, the militants also said they would establish good governance in areas they controlled and avoid civilian casualties and damage to infrastructure.

The seasons have long shaped violence in Afghanistan with fighting easing off in the winter, when mountain passes get snowed in, and picking up again in the spring and summer.

How far the announcement will lead to an immediate escalation in fighting, which caused 11,000 civilian casualties last year, remains unclear. However, NATO and Afghan officials have said they expect very tough combat in 2016.

US EMBASSY WARNING

While there was no sudden surge in violence, officials said at least five members of Afghanistan’s border police had been killed overnight when one police officer turned his weapon on his colleagues.

The “insider attack” happened at a frontier post in southern Kandahar province and the attacker fled into Pakistan. The Taliban claimed seven police had been killed and that the attacker had gone over to join the Islamist group.

Hours before the Taliban announced their offensive, the U.S. embassy in Kabul issued an emergency warning to U.S. citizens, saying it had received reports that insurgents were planning attacks on a major hotel in Kabul.

Heavy fighting has continued for months across Afghanistan, from Kunduz, the northern city that fell briefly to the insurgents last year, to Helmand province bordering Pakistan in the south.

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