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KABUL – Taliban leaders on Saturday announced plans to launch a nationwide spring offensive on Sunday, timed to coincide with a national holiday celebrating the departure of Soviet forces in the 1980s.

“This year’s Khalid bin Waleed operation will be launched by the Mujahideen of Islamic Emirate against America, NATO and their backers for the gratification of Allah Almighty, independence of Afghanistan and establishing in it an Islamic government,” the group’s leading council said in a statement released online.

In the statement, Taliban leaders specifically laid out plans to use insider attacks against members of the NATO coalition, as well as suicide attacks against military bases and diplomatic facilities. “…every possible tactic will be utilized in order to detain or inflict heavy casualties on the foreign transgressors,” the statement said.

The operation is named after Khalid bin Waleed, a companion of the Islamic prophet Mohamed known for his military prowess. The Taliban is known for often releasing hyperbolic statements, but spring time is traditionally when violence in Afghanistan increases as the weather warms.

A spokesman for NATO’s International Security Assistance Force said the coalition takes every Taliban announcement seriously, but referred further questions to a statement made by ISAF commander, U.S. Gen. Joseph Dunford on April 24.

“As the traditional fighting season begins, the insurgency will confront a combined ANSF and Afghanistan Local Police force of over 350,000 personnel who are in the lead for security in areas containing over 87 percent of Afghanistan’s population,” Dunford said at the time.

He insisted that further attacks will only undermine the influence of the insurgency waged by the Taliban and other groups. “The insurgency can no longer use the justification that it is fighting foreign occupiers – that message rings hollow. Today, Afghans are securing the Afghan people while the Taliban continue to conduct acts of violence that kill and maim innocent Afghan civilians.”

The Taliban statement called on Afghan civilians to avoid working for, or living near coalition bases to reduce civilian casualties. Yet recent months have seen a rise in civilian deaths, including dozens of Afghans killed in early April when Taliban fighters attacked a courthouse in Farah, in western Afghanistan.

The United Nations estimates that civilian casualties so far this year are up 30 percent over 2012, with 475 civilians killed and 872 injured. The UN attributed 81 percent of the civilian casualties in 2012 to insurgents, while NATO airstrikes and other military operations were also blamed for causing civilian casualties.

smith.josh@stripes.com

Twitter: @joshjonsmith


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