Afghan Taliban announce spring offensive

ASSOCIATED PRESS
Kabul
Published 12.04.2016 23:09

The Taliban announced the start of their warm-weather fighting season on Tuesday, vowing ‘large-scale attacks' in the 15th year of their war against the U.S.-backed Afghan government. In an email to media, the militants said the spring offensive had begun at 5 a.m. They dubbed the campaign "Operation Omari" in honor of Taliban founder Mullah Mohammad Omar, who died three years ago. The Taliban added that in areas under their control, "mechanisms for good governance will be established so that our people can live a life of security and normalcy." The insurgents control several rural districts and last year seized the northern city of Kunduz and held it for three days. The Taliban said they would try to avoid killing civilians or destroying civilian infrastructure, and would carry out a "dialogue with our countrymen in the enemy ranks" to try to convince them to join the insurgency. More than 11,000 civilians were killed or wounded in 2015, according to the U.N.

The Taliban went through a period of infighting after Mullah Omar's death became public last summer. Mullah Omar's deputy, Mullah Akhtar Mansoor, had run the insurgency in his name and was elected as his successor by a small clique amid mistrust from the rank and file. The dispute had little impact on the battlefield, however, where the Taliban have advanced on a number of fronts over the past year. And in recent months, Mansoor has consolidated power, bringing several onetime rivals back into the fold. The Taliban said late Monday that around 20 fighters with a local DAESH affiliate in the eastern Nangarhar province had pledged their support for Mansoor. It would be the first time DAESH militants, many of whom are disgruntled former Taliban members, have joined the Taliban in the province, which has seen heavy fighting between the rival militant groups.

The fighting subsides in much of Afghanistan during the winter, when snow and inclement weather descends on the mountainous border with Pakistan, making it difficult for the militants to travel back and forth and stage attacks. But the Taliban remained on the march in the warmer south of the country, where they threatened or briefly seized strategic territory in three provinces. The violence is expected to intensify once the poppy harvest in the southern provinces is finished in coming weeks. The Taliban will deploy extra forces to protect smuggling routes used for arms, minerals and other contraband that fund the insurgency. Jabbar Qahraman, presidential envoy to Helmand, said most of the estimated 5,500 government troops and police killed in action in 2015 lost their lives in the opium-producing southern province. He blamed not only the Taliban but an "opium mafia" working with them. The drugs gangs "are a big headache as they are so active, and they have the full support of Taliban fighters in Helmand, each helping the other to their own benefit," he said.

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