Taliban declare last ‘spring offensive’ before NATO exit

KABUL - Taliban insurgents in Afghanistan announced the start of their annual “spring offensive” on Thursday, vowing a final summer of bloody attacks on foreign forces before the 13-year NATO combat mission ends.

The Islamist extremists said that the offensive, starting on Monday, would cleanse “the filth of the infidels” from the country, and warned that Afghan translators, government officials, politicians and judges would also be targeted.

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 in 2001.

A small number of US troops may stay on from next year on a training and counter-terrorism mission, if a long-delayed deal is signed between Kabul and Washington.

But the English-language statement on the Taliban’s website warned that the insurgency would continue against even a few thousand US troops.

The Taliban “insists on the unconditional withdrawal of all invading forces... and sees the continuation of its armed Jihad imperative to achieving these goals,” it said.

“If the invaders or their internal stooges believe that reducing the number of foreign forces will dampen our Jihadi fervour then they are sadly mistaken.” It added that attacks during the coming “fighting season” would target US military bases, foreign embassies and vehicle convoys, as well as the Afghan government.

“The days of... the barbaric invaders (on) the pure soil of our country have come (to a) close, Allah willing, due to your 13-year Jihad and sacrifices,” it told its fighters.

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.

“The main target of the current year’s blessed Jihadi operation shall be the foreign invaders and their backers under various names like spies, military and civilian contractors and everyone working for them like translators,” it said.

The offensive will consist of suicide bombings, “insider attacks” by Afghan soldiers and complex assaults on military facilities.

“Such war techniques which shall inflict maximum losses on the invaders while preventing corporeal and financial losses on the ordinary civilians,” it added, though insurgent attacks often kill non-combatants.

The ongoing presidential election could herald the start of negotiations with the Taliban. Previous efforts to begin a peace process have ended in failure.