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Afghan Taliban Announces Spring Offensive


Afghan security forces inspect the site of a blast at a police arms depot in Kandahar on April 21. At least one person was killed and 15 injured.

The Afghan Taliban has announced that the militant group will launch its annual spring offensive on April 24.

In a statement e-mailed to media on April 22, the Taliban said it will "launch the spring operations under the inspirational name of 'Azm' (determination) at 5 a.m. on 24 April 2015."

It said the "main targets of these operations" will be "foreign occupiers, especially their permanent military bases...officials of the stooge regime, their military constellations, especially their intelligence, interior ministry, and defense ministry officials."

In a statement, Afghanistan's Defense Ministry dismissed the Taliban announcement, calling it "repetitive propaganda," and saying Afghan forces are fully prepared to respond to any attacks.

The Taliban has already stepped up attacks on government and foreign targets.

This year's offensive marks the first fighting season in which Afghan security forces will battle the insurgents without the full support of U.S.-led foreign combat forces, which largely withdrew at the end of last year.

The new NATO-led mission, launched on January 1, is focused mainly on training of the Afghan security forces.

The mission involves some 12,000 troops, including 9,800 U.S. soldiers.

NATO's combat mission -- the International Security and Assistance Force (ISAF) -- formally ended in December after 13 years, but a small follow-up foreign force has stayed on to train and support local security personnel.

U.S. President Barack Obama last month revised initial plans to reduce the U.S. force in Afghanistan this year by nearly half and agreed to keep the current level of 9,800 U.S. troops until the end of 2015.

The Taliban warned that the announcement would damage any prospects of peace talks as they vowed to continue fighting.

Aside from the Taliban, the Afghan government has also repeatedly warned of the Islamic State (IS) group making inroads into the country.

President Ashraf Ghani blamed IS for a suicide attack on April 18 in the eastern city of Jalalabad that killed 33 people and wounded more than 100 others. If verified, that would mark the first major attack by IS militants in Afghanistan.

Also on April 18, after months of stalemate, Afghanistan's new government announced appointees to fill every remaining post in the cabinet except the crucial position of defense minister.

Only eight out of 25 ministerial posts had been filled nearly eight months after Ghani's inauguration and the formation of a "national unity government" with his election rival Abdullah Abdullah, who is chief executive.

The rest were rejected by parliament in late January over technicalities, despite a power-sharing deal agreed between Ghani and Abdullah.

The delay over the appointment has sparked fierce public criticism, with many blaming the recent uptick in deadly insurgent attacks on the leadership vacuum.

With reporting by AP and AFP
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