Taliban to launch offensive Sunday against U.S. forces

KABUL, Afghanistan — The Taliban on Sunday will begin a spring offensive against the U.S.-led coalition in Afghanistan, a statement posted on the insurgent group's website said.

The announcement of the offensive comes only days after President Barack Obama made major changes to his national security team, including the appointment of Gen. David Petraeus, the commander of coalition forces in Afghanistan, to head the CIA.

"The offensive will focus on attacks against military centers, places of gathering, airbases, ammunition and logistical convoys of the foreign invaders in all parts of the country," the statement said.

The statement also singled out the so-called peace council, launched by Afghan president Hamid Karzai and supported by his Western allies in an effort to establish a dialogue with the insurgents.

"This is a Taliban propaganda war," said Gen. Atiqullah Amarkhil, an Afghan military analyst, adding that insurgent leaders are "trying to influence their enemy and give morale to their fighters."

Violence has increased across Afghanistan as the U.S.-led NATO forces are preparing to transfer security responsibilities to Afghan forces starting this summer.

An Afghan air force pilot opened fire on U.S. trainers at Kabul's international airport Wednesday, killing nine in the deadliest attack on Americans in Afghanistan in nearly six years.

In a major security breach on Monday, nearly 500 prisoners, mostly captured Taliban fighters, escaped from main jail of Kandahar province through a tunnel dug from a nearby house.

"The Taliban are trying to show their force," launching attacks that would shock Afghans, Amarkhil said.

Arsala Rahmani, a member of the peace council, said the Taliban threats aren't new.

"Despite the Taliban threats, I am committed to continue my work," Rahmani said.

Though the Taliban statement promises that Afghan civilians won't be harmed during the offensive, more than two-thirds of the 2,777 civilians killed last year were the victims of insurgents, according to the United Nations. By contrast, NATO and Afghan government forces were responsible for the deaths of 440 civilians.

As part of Obama's reshuffling, Lt. Gen. John Allen, now the deputy at U.S. Central Command, will fill Petraeus' shoes in Afghanistan. Ryan Crocker, a career ambassador who served in Iraq and Pakistan under President George W. Bush before retiring in 2009, will return to Afghanistan as U.S. ambassador, replacing Karl Eikenberry.

Petraeus will replace current CIA director Leon Panetta, who will lead the Pentagon following the retirement of Defense Secretary Robert Gates.

(Shukoor is a McClatchy special correspondent.)


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