KABUL • The Afghan Taleban launched their "spring offensive" yesterday, heralding fresh fighting in the drawn-out conflict as embattled security forces struggle to recover from a devastating attack on a military base a week ago.
Operation Mansouri will target foreign forces with "conventional attacks, guerilla warfare, complex martyrdom attacks, insider attacks", an insurgent statement said. "The enemy will be targeted, harassed, killed or captured until they abandon their last posts."
The annual spring offensive normally marks the start of the "fighting season", though this winter the Taleban continued to battle government forces, most successfully in last Friday's attack on the military base outside the city of Mazar-i-Sharif.
The massacre saw insurgents armed with guns and suicide bombs slaughter at least 135 young recruits, according to the official toll, though multiple sources have claimed it is much higher.
It is believed to be the deadliest attack by the Taleban on an Afghan military target since they were driven from power in 2001, and marks yet another psychological blow by the resurgent militants.
Already beset by killings, desertions and struggles over leadership and morale, Afghan forces have been straining to beat back insurgents since US-led Nato troops ended their combat mission in December 2014. They faced soaring casualties last year, up by 35 per cent, with 6,800 soldiers and police officers killed, according to a United States watchdog.
With more than one-third of Afghanistan outside of government control, civilians continue to bear a heavy brunt of the violence, with thousands killed and wounded each year, and children paying an increasingly disproportionate price, United Nations figures show.
Afghanistan's Interior Ministry yesterday shrugged off the Taleban threats, however, saying the offensive was "not something new".
Acting ministry spokesman Najib Danish said: "We will target, kill, defeat and suppress the Taleban... all across the country."
The Taleban statement claimed this year will be different, vowing a political approach in areas it controls that will focus on state-building and "establishing mechanisms for social justice and development".
Afghan and international officials have repeatedly called on the Taleban to disarm and join the political process, a call they have so far refused.
The Taleban announcement comes days after Pentagon chief Jim Mattis visited Kabul as the Trump administration seeks to craft a new strategy in Afghanistan.
The US has around 8,400 troops in the country with about 5,000 more from Nato allies.
They are largely conducting a training, advise and assist mission aimed at supporting Afghan forces.