Tal­iban an­nounce the be­gin­ning of their spring of­fen­sive in Afghanistan

The China Post - - INTERNATIONAL - BY LYNNE O’DON­NELL

The Tal­iban said Wed­nes­day they will start their spring of­fen­sive this week, an an­nual cam­paign in their war against the Afghan gov­ern­ment.

In a state­ment emailed to me­dia, the group said the of­fen­sive — dubbed “Azm” or per­se­ver­ance in Dari and Ara­bic — will begin on Fri­day. The Tal­iban said their Is­lamic Emi­rate of Afghanistan is “determined to pro­long the on­go­ing ji­had,” or holy war.

In past years, spring and the melt­ing of snow on the moun­tains along the bor­der with Pak­istan have marked a sig­nif­i­cant up­surge in fight­ing be­tween the Tal­iban and NATO forces along with their lo­cal al­lies.

This fight­ing sea­son is the first year the in­sur­gents will face just Afghan forces on the bat­tle­field af­ter the with­drawal of most in­ter­na­tional com­bat troops at the end of last year.

While a long-term de­mand of the group has been the with­drawal of in­ter­na­tional mil­i­tary from Afghanistan, the state­ment said that un­der U.S. lead­er­ship, the “cru­saders” will main­tain “con­trol of our land and space” through se­cu­rity agree­ments with the Afghan gov­ern­ment.

The agree­ments al­low NATO and the U.S. to keep a limited num­ber of non-com­bat troops in Afghanistan to “train, ad­vise and as­sist” the Afghan forces in their fight against the in­sur­gency.

“For the com­plete lib­er­a­tion of our beloved home­land from the yoke of for­eign oc­cu­pa­tion and for the im­ple­men­ta­tion of Is­lamic rule through­out the coun­try, the Is­lamic Emi­rate is determined to pro­long the on­go­ing ji­had against the for­eign in­vaders as well as their in­ter­nal stooges,” the state­ment says.

In re­cent weeks, at­tacks across the north and east of the coun­try have in­ten­si­fied in the buildup to the launch of this year’s warm weather fight­ing sea­son. The in­sur­gents can be ex­pected to fight un­til snow falls on the Hindu Kush, when the mil­i­tants re­turn to the moun­tains. Fight­ing even stops in many places for meals and prayers.

But af­ter more than a decade of war, the Tal­iban ap­pear no closer to their goal of over­throw­ing the Kabul gov­ern­ment.

This has opened up an op­por­tu­nity for what is per­ceived to be an af­fil­i­ate of the Is­lamic State group, which al­ready con­trols large parts of Iraq and Syria, to es­tab­lish a small pres­ence in Afghanistan. This has alarmed many Afghans, in­clud­ing in­flu­en­tial war­lord Is­mail Khan, for­mer gover­nor of west­ern Herat prov­ince.

Khan has called on Pres­i­dent Ashraf Ghani to im­prove se­cu­rity and kick­start a mori­bund econ­omy in Afghanistan in or­der to avoid a war with an IS off­shoot.

Afghan forces have been fight- ing lo­cal Tal­iban in south­ern Hel­mand prov­ince for more than two months, hop­ing to dis­lodge them from one of their bas­tions ahead of the spring of­fen­sive. Fight­ing has been fierce as the in­sur­gents seek to pro­tect sup­ply lines for men, guns and drugs that pro­vide a ma­jor source of their fund­ing. Hel­mand’s opium crop ac­counts for most of the world’s heroin sup­ply.

De­spite the nascent IS pres­ence, the Tal­iban ap­pear to be spread­ing their own in­flu­ence to ar­eas where they have not had a sig­nif­i­cant pres­ence in the past. In north­ern Sa­man­gan prov­ince, po­lice said that a fire­fight broke out late on Tues­day when they sur­rounded a house where Tal­iban fighters were hold­ing a meet­ing.

Sediq Az­izi, spokesman for the pro­vin­cial gover­nor, said Afghan se­cu­rity forces killed a Tal­iban com­man­der iden­ti­fied as Mul­lah Bashir along with four other in­sur­gents. One po­lice­man was killed, he said, and an­other two were wounded. Bashir’s mother was also wounded, he said.

On Tues­day, a bomb blast near a po­lice sta­tion in the south­ern city of Kan­da­har killed three peo­ple and wounded 17, while a sep­a­rate bomb killed one per­son and wounded five in the north, in Kun­duz prov­ince. Kan­da­har prov­ince is the heart­land of the Tal­iban in­sur­gency — and the city was the cap­i­tal of the ex­trem­ists’ gov­ern­ment from 1996-2001.

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