KABUL (AFP) – The Taliban and Al-Qaeda will likely stage high-profile attacks in Afghanistan as the country approaches its first post-Taliban parliamentary election, the top commander of US forces in the country said.
Lieutenant General David Barno said militants would look to score a “propaganda victory” by staging attacks aimed at generating significant media coverage.
“Terrorists here in Afghanistan want to reassert themselves and I expect that they will be looking here in the next six to nine months or so to stage some type of high profile attack to score media publicity,” Barno told reporters in Kabul.
Afghanistan’s successful October 9 presidential election which incumbent President Hamid Karzai won with a clear majority was a “strategic defeat” for the Taliban, Barno said.
However, the US general warned that as “terrorist capabilities grow more and more limited, the hardcore fanatics will grow more and more desperate to try and do something to change the course of events in Afghanistan.”
Parliamentary elections are scheduled for September 18 to elect a 249-seat legislature.
“We must all remain realistic and clear-eyed with the understanding that the enemy is still dangerous. He has been reduced in his capabilities, but he remains a desperate foe who will try and create events and inflict losses,” Barno added.
As the weather has warmed after Afghanistan’s harshest winter for a decade, there has been a rise of the number of Taliban attacks.
“We will continue our attacks (during the election) — our targets would be specific,” a Taliban spokesman told Radio Free Europe Saturday.
“We don’t want to target ordinary people, though we’ve told citizens to not participate in the elections,” he said.
Over the last month an Afghan government reconciliation effort aimed at bringing rank-and-file Taliban fighters back into the political mainstream has picked up pace, dealing a blow to the hardline militia, Barno said.
“Several Taliban members have moved forward in the last month to become part of this program which will encourage many others to do so, and these include Taliban leaders as well as rank and file members,” he said.
The government amnesty offer had unexpectedly attracted several high-ranking Taliban leaders, Barno said although he declined to give further details.
Karzai has said all but a hardcore of 150 hardened criminals and people with records of human rights abuses would be eligible for the amnesty.
Barno also cautioned that Al-Qaeda continued to finance and train the Taliban and as the reconciliation drive gained speed, a hardcore of extremists would begin operating “like a wholly-owned subsidiary of Al-Qaeda” in Afghanistan.
Taliban fighters and supporters are estimated to number around 2,000 men in Afghanistan, compared with more than 18,000 US-led coalition troops who are stationed in the country battling remnants of the ultra-Islamic regime.
The US led a military campaign to topple the Taliban in late 2001 after its leaders refused to surrender Osama Bin Laden, the mastermind of the September 11 attacks on New York and Washington.
In the south and southeast of Afghanistan, along the rugged Afghan-Pakistani border militants continue to wage a guerrilla insurgency, laying roadside bombs and rocketing the bases of US and Afghan government troops.