Afghan Taliban announce start of 'spring offensive'

Apparently foreshadowing the spring offensive, a Taliban attack earlier this week on an army base in northern Afghanistan was among the most devastating ever in the country, killing more than 140 Afghan soldiers.

Almost 9,000 US troops remain in Afghanistan; some 7,000 of them train and assist Afghan forces, and about 1,500 are a part of a counter-terrorism unit that mostly targets pockets of al Qaeda and Islamic State fighters, but also engages the Taliban. So-called insider attacks - when Afghan soldiers and police turn their guns on their colleagues or on global troops - have been a major problem during the war, which began in 2001.

U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, during last week's trip to Kabul, warned that 2017 will be a tough fighting year for Afghan security forces.

Around ten Taliban insurgents disguised as members of the military forced their way on to the base last Friday.

The group also claims that their operation will have two phases, a civilian phase to provide good administration and support to the civilians in the areas under their control, while the military phase will focus more on seizing more areas and carrying more attacks in the form of coordinated attacks, guerilla attacks, suicide bombings, insider attacks, target killings, and more.

The Taliban announcement of the offensive coincides with the anniversary of Afghanistan's so-called Saur Revolution against its pro-Russian rulers, which led to a 10-year uprising by US backed Islamic insurgents, or mujahedeen, against an invading Soviet army.

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"We will target, kill, defeat and suppress the Taliban. all across the country", acting ministry spokesman Najib Danish told AFP.

In Taliban controlled areas the group said it will proceed with state-building and "institutions will be erected to secure the social, security, and legal rights of the citizens".

The Taliban has extended its territorial control in Afghanistan since the withdrawal of worldwide combat troops in 2014 and inflicted heavy casualties on Afghan forces. They are largely conducting a training, advise and assist mission aimed at supporting Afghan forces. John Nicholson, the commander of USA troops in Afghanistan, referring to the Islamic State cell in Afghanistan, known as Islamic State-Khorasan Province.

Analysts have warned that increasing contacts in recent months between Russian Federation and the Taliban could complicate US -led efforts to stabilize Afghanistan.

"I will say we were sending a very clear message to ISIS, not only to ISIS here in Afghanistan but also ISIS main", Nicholson said. Some analysts even argued the strike could boost the Taliban, who had been fighting a turf war with IS in Nangarhar province near the border with Pakistan, where the bomb was dropped. But it was criticised by observers who questioned its use against a group that is that is not considered as big a threat as the resurgent Taliban.

Two US troops were killed on Wednesday while fighting ISIS militants near the blast-site, the Pentagon has said, highlighting the price the US is also paying for its continuing role in the conflict.

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