Taliban Announce 'Spring Offensive' in Afghanistan

An Afghan policeman stands guard outside of court a day after a Taliban attack, in Mazar-i-Sharif April 10, 2015. Anil Usyan/REUTERS

The Taliban in Afghanistan has announced it will begin its annual 'spring offensive' tomorrow, in the ongoing battle against the Afghan government - the first major test for Afghan security forces since the majority of NATO troops pulled out of the country at the end of 2014.

In a statement sent out to media organisations, the jihadi group threatens military, as well as foreigners and foreign targets who remain in the country, and government officials.

NATO forces pulled out of Afghanistan at the end of last year, replacing combat-ready forces with Operation Resolute Support, a training, advice and assistance mission in support of the Afghan military.

This is the first Taliban spring offensive which the Afghan security forces will face without the full support of international combat troops.

Winter snowfall leads to a big lull in the fighting according to Patrick Skinner, a former CIA case officer who now works for the Soufan Group, an intelligence consultancy. "Then in the spring, just like the return of the robin, it's fighting season," he says. "They make a big deal about it, but it's just basically when the weather permits them to move more easily."

He adds that the spring offensive will be designed to probe for weaknesses in the Afghan armed forces. "They have no interest in talking right now. This will be one of the first times when there's really a lot less foreign troops so they are going to push as hard as they can to see how strong the Afghan military really is. We are all about to find out."

There has been an increase in attacks in the country since the end of the international combat mission. Associated Press reports that only yesterday nine border guards were killed in a raid in the north-west of the country while six civilians including four children died in a roadside bombing in the south-west of the country on the same day.

The United Nations mission to Afghanistan has warned that civilians are set to bear the brunt of increasing violence. The UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan reports 655 civilians deaths in the first quarter of 2015, and 1,155 injuries.

UN Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights, Ivan Šimonović, said the country was in a "paradoxical situation", following a week-long visit to assess the human rights situation.

"On the one hand, there are new opportunities for peace talks that would have been unimaginable only a few months ago," he said on Tuesday. "On the other, the conflict looks set to intensify as insurgents test the strength of the security forces hoping to gain leverage in future negotiations."

Adding to the complicated security situation is the spectre of Islamic State activity in the east of the country. A group calling itself Islamic State of Khorasan, an ISIS-affiliate, claimed responsibility for the deaths of at least 33 people in a bombing in Jalalabad on Saturday. While Afghan President Ashraf Ghani blamed the group for the deaths, although Reuters reports that Nato and Afghan officials doubt these claims.