Thursday, 21 September, 2017

Afghanistan: Taliban Launch Spring Offensive as US Weighs Possible Strategies

Members of the Taliban gather at the site of the execution of three men accused of murdering a couple during a robbery in Ghazni province Afghanistan Taliban members in Ghazni province Afghanistan
Craig Ferguson | 03 May, 2017, 01:49

Fighting has been fierce as USA and Afghan special operations forces, backed by hundreds of air strikes, have sought to advance against militant strongholds in recent months. In an emailed statement the Taliban also claimed the district, while Badakhshan's deputy governor Mohammad Bidar said fighting between Afghan Security Forces and the Taliban was still intense in the area. The casualty toll was much more than the losses Afghan forces suffered in the battlefield in the past several weeks, prompting the defense minister and the military chief to step down.

Followers were told they can be "suicide attacks, complex attacks and inside attacks" by soldiers or police turning against their peers. Afghan forces saw soaring casualties in 2016, up by 35% with 6,800 soldiers and police killed, according to a USA watchdog.

The brutal assault in which 135 recruits were killed is believed to be the deadliest-ever Taliban attack on a military installation.

The Taliban on Friday announced the start of their annual rebel offensive in Afghanistan, a media report said.

Afghan and worldwide officials have repeatedly called on the Taliban to disarm and join the political process, a call they have so far refused.

The Taliban announcement comes days after Pentagon chief Jim Mattis visited Kabul as the Trump administration seeks to craft a new strategy in Afghanistan. They are largely conducting a training, advise and assist mission aimed at supporting Afghan forces.

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The incident comes just days after USA defence secretary Jim Mattis visited Afghanistan, and while U.S. troops are battling suspected Islamic State militants in Nangarhar province.

During a Monday news conference with U.S. Secretary of Defense James Mattis, Nicholson said ISIS is attempting to establish a presence in Afghanistan, and the MOAB bomb was meant to send "a very clear message" to the group.

ISIS, notorious for its reign of terror in Syria and Iraq, has made inroads into Afghanistan in recent years, attracting disaffected members of the Pakistani and Afghan Taliban as well as Uzbek Islamists.

Over 1,800 US troops have been killed in action in Afghanistan since the USA first invaded the country in 2001 to combat al-Qaeda. John Nicholson, the commander of US troops in Afghanistan, referring to the Islamic State cell in Afghanistan, known as Islamic State-Khorasan Province. The target was IS hideouts in the Achin district of Nangarhar province.

The attack triggered global shockwaves, with some condemning the use of Afghanistan as what they called a testing ground for the weapon, and against a militant group 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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