KABUL (AFP) – After an unusually bitter winter in Afghanistan, the Taliban have emerged from hibernation with a vengeance and begun a spring campaign of violence, with just months to go before key parliamentary elections.
Bombs have caused carnage in Kandahar, Kabul and Jalalabad and attacks have killed four Afghan policemen and injured US and local soldiers during a fortnight of bloodshed.
It all happened exactly as the ousted Islamic fundamentalist movement had warned — and as the 18,000-strong coalition forces hunting the militants through Afghanistan’s rugged terrain had expected.
“With spring coming, we’re expecting more actions such as ambushes and IEDs (improvised explosive devices),” Lieutenant General David Barno, the commander of US forces in the country told AFP this week.
A Western security source added: “We were waiting for this. It comes every year at the same time.”
Afghan authorities said they too were prepared for the upsurge in violence, which has included a vicious three-day stretch of attacks that also left at least four Taliban militants dead.
“There might be more attacks, but remote ones, because security is very good in the country now,” Afghan Interior Ministry spokesman Lutfullah Mashal told AFP.
But the apparently dislocated Taliban cells carrying out the attacks could still coalesce ahead of September 18’s long-delayed parliamentary polls, analysts and officials said.
Barno himself said that the Al-Qaeda terror network was trying to mastermind a comeback by the Taliban, which supported Osama bin Laden both before and after the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States.
“There’s always cooperation, it’s no coincidence that all operations take place at the same time,” said Nick Downie of the Afghanistan Nongovernmental Security Office.
“Cooperation exists, above all in the east and south-east, where propaganda spreads when the weather improves.
“The Taliban have time on their side. They don’t have technology, but they have the knowledge of the country.”
“They have one basic principle: avoid targeting the Afghan people, except the police and the army, who they consider collaborators,” the western security source said.
This was shown when the Taliban were blamed by police for a March 17 bombing in southern Kandahar, the militia’s birthplace, which killed five people and injured 32 while US Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice was visiting the country.
The militants tend to claim responsibility for almost every attack on Afghan or US forces, even when it results from an old landmine and is not caused by them. But with civilians involved in the Kandahar attack they issued an unusually quick denial.
According to analysts, the Taliban will concentrate on the symbols of reconstruction: foreign soldiers, local forces, aid agencies, the United Nations and other western groups.
Four aid workers have been killed since the start of the year in Afghanistan, Downie’s group said. In 2004 the figure was 24, and 13 in 2003.
“Security is usually good for foreigners, but very little in general for most of the country,” Downie added.
All eyes will be on the September vote to see if it will be targeted despite heavy security provided by local and foreign troops.
The Taliban failed to make an impact on Afghanistan’s historic presidential election in October 2004, despite repeated threats. It was won by US-backed incumbent Hamid Karzai.
“There will definitely be attacks, because the vote will be very decentralised, and without doubt political assassinations,” the western security source added.
However experts say the Taliban are not the only killers in the scarred country, where a massive drug trade powers the economy and where regional warlords constantly squabble.
“The violence will continue. But it’s not only from insurgents but also from power people liked with crime, who have impunity, above all if the government needs them at local level,” Downie said.