April 30, 2011 5:32:21 AM
KABUL, April 30 (Reuters) - The Taliban declared the start of a spring offensive on Saturday, warning they planned to target foreign troops in Afghanistan as well as Afghan security forces and government officials in a wave of attacks across the country.
In a statement, the hardline Islamists warned Afghan civilians to stay away from public gatherings, military bases and convoys, as well as Afghan government centres, as these would be the focus of attacks.
The Taliban statement comes a day after senior military officials and Western diplomats warned they expected a surge in militant attacks over the next week.
"Operations will focus on attacks against military centres, places of gatherings, airbases, ammunition and logistical military convoys of the foreign invaders in all parts of the country," the Taliban said in the statement.
Senior military officials said on Friday recent intelligence reporting indicated that the attacks planned by the Taliban, supported by the al Qaeda-linked Haqqani network and other insurgents, would include suicide bombings.
Two senior coalition commanders said they anticipated the campaign of increased violence would last about a week.
Washington and commanders of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) have trumpeted successes against a growing insurgency since 30,000 extra U.S. troops were sent to Afghanistan last year.
The Taliban statement said the targets of an operation it called "Badar" would be foreign forces, high-ranking officials of President Hamid Karzai's government, members of the cabinet and lawmakers, as well as the heads of foreign and local companies working for the NATO-led coalition.
"All Afghan people should bear in mind to keep away from gatherings, convoys and centres of the enemy so that they will not become harmed during attacks of Mujahideen against the enemy," the Taliban said.
Senior commanders have long anticipated a spike in violence with the arrival of the spring and summer "fighting season", although the usual winter lull was not seen as U.S-led forces pressed their attack against insurgents, particularly in the Taliban's southern heartland.
Violence across Afghanistan hit record levels in 2010, with civilian and military casualties the worst since U.S-backed Afghan forces toppled the Taliban government in late 2001.
The Pentagon said in a biannual report on Friday that an overall increase in violence was due in part to increased targeting of safe insurgent safe havens and unseasonably mild winter weather. (Reporting by Rob Taylor and Jonathon Burch; Editing by Andrew Marshall)
Copyright 2011 Thomson Reuters. Click for Restrictions.