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Taleban to step up attacks on Afghan forces

(AFP) / 17 January 2013

RUSSELS — Committed to withdrawal in 2014, NATO’s Afghan strategy faces a serious test in coming months with the Taleban expected to step up attacks on local forces taking over security, a senior NATO officer said on Thursday.

US-led NATO forces are handing over more and more duties as the Afghanistan army this year takes the lead role in combat.

But a decline in Taleban activity, which began in 2009, should not be taken as guaranteed to continue, said the officer, who asked not to be named.

“They have not taken a (time-out),” he said, adding: “We think they are going to come at the Afghan” forces as the fighting season returns with improved weather.

He said it was significant that the Taleban had been pushed out of major population centres, with the Afghan police now strong enough to act as a holding force on the ground.

The NATO withdrawal also means the Taleban will no longer be able to claim they are fighting foreign forces, a major factor in their recruitment drive, the officer said.

Also, “there is no problem recruiting” for the Afghan army, he maintained.

Asked about post-2014 policy, when the United States and its allies are supposed to provide a training and counter-terrorism force for the government, the officer said the issue was not about the numbers involved but the mission’s role.

US President Barack Obama and his Afghan counterpart Hamid Karzai held tough talks last week over a continued US troop presence, with Washington touting a “zero option” at one point amid sharp differences over their legal status.

There are currently some 100,000 foreign troops in Afghanistan, two-thirds of them American, with the Afghan army to comprise 350,000 soldiers by 2014.

Earlier this month, the Taleban compared the withdrawal of NATO forces to the 1989 Soviet retreat from Afghanistan and the end of the Vietnam war.

Coalition forces had “completely lost their will to fight and practically began the process of withdrawal and retreat,” they said.


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