ARLINGTON, Va. — U.S. military officials expect more roadside bombs, attacks on civilians and assassination attempts against Afghan government officials when the Taliban’s spring offensive begins in coming weeks.

Lt. Gen. David Rodriguez, deputy commander of U.S. Forces-Afghanistan, said the increased presence of Afghan forces and security operations conducted over the last few months throughout the country should limit the enemy fighters’ abilities. But, he added, officials still expect the Taliban to “try and assert themselves” through other means.

“They’re going to come back with a different strategy,” he told reporters at a Pentagon press conference on Tuesday. “Assassination hit teams, improvised explosive devices. … They will not be as direct in their confrontations as last year.”

Rodriguez said friendly forces will counter with a focused effort to protect populated civilian areas and Afghan government institutions, in addition to aggressive direct military operations against Taliban strongholds.

He said in the last 12 weeks NATO and Afghan security forces have uncovered about 1,250 weapons caches during security sweeps, putting a significant dent in the Taliban’s supplies. Over the same period the previous year, the security forces seized only about 160.

“We’re going after the support bases that have been there for many years,” he said. “We’re trying to make it much less hospitable [for returning fighters] than it was last year.”

Rodriguez would not predict whether those changes will mean fewer American troop deaths in 2011.

Last year, 499 U.S. servicemembers and 212 other coalition members were killed in Afghanistan. On Tuesday, the human rights watchdog Afghanistan Rights Monitor reported that 2010 was also the deadliest year of the war there for Afghan civilians as well, with more than 2,400 killed.

President Barack Obama has called for U.S. forces to begin withdrawing from the country starting this summer, but Rodriguez said military officials are still months away from knowing the size or scope of that drawdown.

He did note that the number of Afghan National Army soldiers has increased about 70,000 since last spring, and said those troops are beginning to take over security responsibilities for important population centers through the country. Both of those indicate progress towards an independent Afghan security force, he added.

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