Afghan attacks mark start of Taliban 'spring offensive'

Afghan attacks mark start of Taliban 'spring offensive'
An Afghan policeman looks at a hole in a roof, caused by a Taliban rocket, following an attack in Ghazni province on May 12, 2014.

KABUL - The Taliban began their annual "spring offensive" Monday with a series of attacks across Afghanistan, including a suicide strike on government offices in Jalalabad and rockets fired at two airports.

At least two suicide bombers entered the provincial justice department in Jalalabad, officials said, triggering a stand-off with security forces in the eastern city which has been hit by regular insurgent attacks.

It was not immediately clear whether the pair had detonated their explosives.

Two rockets exploded near Kabul airport at 5:00 am (0030 GMT), the exact time that the insurgents had vowed to start a new nationwide operation against US-led foreign forces and Afghan government facilities.

There were no confirmed casualties in either attack. But three people, including one policeman, were killed in Ghazni province southwest of Kabul when Taliban insurgents targeted several police checkpoints.

"Three people have been killed, one policeman and two women," Mohammad Ali Ahmadi, Ghazni's deputy governor, told AFP. "Eight others were wounded, two police and six civilians." Four rockets were also fired at Bagram airport, the biggest NATO military base in Afghanistan, which lies north of Kabul.

NATO's International Security Assistance Force confirmed it was investigating the attack.

"A vacant building and some equipment were damaged," a spokesman said. "There were no casualties." Taliban leaders said last week that the offensive, which would be the last before NATO combat troops withdraw from Afghanistan, would cleanse "the filth of the infidels" from the country.

Sediq Sediqqi, the interior ministry spokesman, confirmed that two rockets fell outside Kabul airport but caused no casualties.

The Taliban claimed responsibility for the spate of attacks via a recognised Twitter account, and said many other strikes had been carried out during the day.

Bombings and firefights

The group said ambushes, bombings and firefights in provinces including Nimroz, Kapisa, Zabul, Patika and Paktika had killed several US soldiers and Afghan police and soldiers.

The Taliban often exaggerate attacks and death tolls.

The "Khaibar" offensive, named after an ancient battle between Muslims and Jews, will coincide with a second round of elections next month to choose a successor to President Hamid Karzai, who has ruled since the country's Taliban government was toppled in 2001.

About 51,000 US-led NATO troops still deployed in Afghanistan are set to withdraw by December, ending a long and costly battle to defeat the Taliban, who launched a fierce insurgency after being ousted from power.

A small number of US troops may stay on from next year on a training and counter-terrorism mission.

The Taliban "insists on the unconditional withdrawal of all invading forces", the group said in an English-language statement on its website last week.

The statement said that attacks during the coming "fighting season" would target US military bases, foreign embassies and vehicle convoys, as well as Afghan officials, politicians and translators.

Afghanistan's fighting season traditionally begins in April or May as snow recedes from the mountains, and the Taliban mark the occasion with an annual declaration to attack foreign forces and unseat the Kabul government.

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