In this April 10, 2013, photo released by the U.S. Army, U.S. soldiers with… (Sgt. Kimberly Hackbarth,…)
KABUL, Afghanistan -- At a pivotal moment when U.S. forces are winding down combat operations in Afghanistan and handing over the lead security role to the Afghan government, Taliban insurgents announced Saturday the launch of their annual spring offensive.
In an elaborately worded statement, the Taliban proclaimed that a "monumental spring operation’’ will begin Sunday with the goal of "defeating this era’s western invaders.’’
The Islamist insurgent group, tossed from power by U.S.-led forces in late 2001, is threatening a new round of mass suicide bombings and "insider" attacks on U.S. and coalition forces.
After announcing a similar major warm weather offensive last year, the Taliban launched an attack in Kabul featuring suicide bombings and a deadly, 18-hour street battle that targeted the U.S. Embassy and the headquarters of the NATO-led international security force.
The threat of more insider killings comes as the rate of such attacks has slowed in recent months, after U.S. and Afghan government forces upgraded their security procedures. Afghan soldiers, police – and Taliban infiltrators posing as security force members – killed 62 international troops last year and four so far this year, according to coalition figures.
The International Security Assistance Force, or ISAF, the NATO-led coalition that includes about 66,000 U.S. troops, responded Saturday with its own statement dismissing the Taliban challenge.
"The Afghan people should not fear Taliban threats,’’ the statement said. "The Afghan National Security Forces have wisely used the winter months to prepare for taking over the security lead throughout Afghanistan by mid-2013. They are ready.’’
Also Saturday, ISAF announced that a military plane had crashed in southern Afghanistan, killing four ISAF service members. The coalition said the cause of the crash was under investigation but initial reporting indicated no insurgent activity in the area.
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